By Rabbi Robert Alpert
In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, after Abraham has purchased the burial ground following Sarah’s death at the Cave of Machpelah and buried her there, we are informed in Genesis 24:1: ‘Abraham was old, advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things (bakol)’.
This is the first of three times that the word kol is used in relation to the Patriarchs. In fact, the three usages of this word are found in the text of the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals). The passage that should be familiar to us from this prayer is bakol mikol kol – ‘with a perfect blessing’. What is the meaning of this word here in our Torah portion, and what does it mean when used in Genesis 27:33, in connection with Isaac discovering that Jacob has fooled him into thinking that he (Jacob) was Esau, and in Genesis 33:11, when Jacob informs Esau at their reunion after more than twenty years of separation that he has ‘plenty’?
In relationship to our Torah portion, the traditional commentators provide a variety of potential options. Rashi defines the word bakol as equivalent (via gematria) of the word ben – a son (Isaac). Now that he has a son, Abraham needs to see to it that Isaac will be married off properly, which describes the context and content of our Torah portion. Abraham will shortly ask his servant Damesek Eliezer to go to Paddan-Aram to find a wife for Isaac from the family that remained behind on the other side of the Euphrates River. Rabbi David Kimhi similarly points out that Abraham at this stage does not lack anything in this world other than an appropriate wife for his beloved son, Isaac. On the other hand, both Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Ramban) speak about the blessings of long life, wealth, honour and children – which is the true joy of any adult. Ramban adds that Abraham wants his son to provide him with grandchildren. Ibn Ezra, in addition, brings a Midrash found in the Talmud, Bava Batra 16b, suggesting that Abraham actually had a daughter named Bakol.
When the phrase mikol is used in relation to Isaac, we are introduced to a debate brought in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah (67:2) between Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nehemiah. Rabbi Yehuda interprets this to mean that when Isaac ate the meal that Jacob had brought him, he tasted of all that was created in the six days of creation, while Rabbi Nehemiah says that Isaac tasted all the good things that are prepared for the righteous in the world to come. In Rabbi Nehemiah’s telling, Esau wanted to know what exactly Jacob gave Isaac to eat. Isaac said: ‘I do not know, but I tasted in it the taste of bread, the taste of meat, the taste of fish, the taste of locusts and the taste of all of the delicacies of the world.’ Isaac enjoyed the best that the world had to provide him.
According to Rashi, when Jacob tells his brother, Esau v’chi yeish li kol – ‘I have plenty’ – he is informing Esau that he has all that he needs, as opposed to Esau, who tried to exhibit excessive pride over his own wealth. Rabbi David Kimhi states that Jacob has all of the riches and honour that he could ever want. Rabbi Saadia Gaon teaches that Jacob had more than his father or illustrious grandfather, more than he needs.
Perhaps with all this in mind we can appreciate the depth of the blessings that we are asking of God after every meal!
Rabbi Robert Alpert served as High Holy Days Rabbi at Edgware Masorti Synagogue this year.