כח כָּל-אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר; וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם, וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם--אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם
49:28 All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each one his own blessing.

Sefer Bereishit concludes with Ya’akov’s blessings to his sons. The expression אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם, loosely translated as “He gave each one his own blessing” seems redundant; after all, the Torah had just exhaustively recorded the details of each of the blessings. What new information are we to garner by the additional words?

The Ohr HaHayim HaKadosh explains:

אשר כברכתו. פי' הראוי לו כפי בחינת נשמתו וכפי מעשיו, כי יש לך לדעת כי הנפשות כל אחת יש לה בחינת המעלה יש שמעלתה כהונה ויש מלכות ויש כתר תורה ויש גבורה ויש עושר ויש הצלחה, ונתכוין יעקב בנבואה לברך כל אחד כפי ברכתו הראוי לה המלך במלכות והכהן בכהונה וכן על זה הדרך ולא הפך המסילות

Each according to his blessing: That is, the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up and his actions. You should know that souls each have their own special quality: there are some whose level is Kehuna/priesthood, others who are characterized by Malchut/kingship; those with Keter Torah/Torah knowledge…those oriented towards courage, wealth…Ya’akov had in mind in his prophetic state to bless each one according to the blessing fit for him…and not according to an opposite path…All too often, we commit ourselves to a sweeping vision of what our children must achieve. Though it comes from a good place – there are certain behaviors, academic and religious standards which, as parents and grandparents, we feel it’s our obligation to transmit to our kids….. In our zeal to be role models and educate those entrusted to us, we sometimes overlook the unique qualities of each child. We end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and thereby unwittingly deny the child the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. In the words of the Ohr HaHayim, we should make it possible for a child to tap into the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up.

The same is true of community. The verse in Tehilm 136 says, “He sliced Yam Suf into segments, His kindness endures forever.”The midrash explains that Hashem carved out twelve unique paths in the sea through which the Jewish people were to travel on their way to their redemption from Egyptian slavery. The message is clear: to be redeemed as a collective, it would have been sufficient to forge one path in the midst of the sea; after all, isn’t this narrative all about being saved from the clutches of Pharoah and his army- from being killed or relegated to continued slavery? Apparently, though, such a plan would not have engendered a complete liberation from Mizraim. The root word for Egypt in Hebrew is the word מצר, connoting restriction and limitation. Geula, redemption, to be ultimately meaningful and sustainable, had to address both the needs of the collective and the needs of the specific tribes that together form our people. Traversing Yam Suf had to both be physically and spiritually redemptive.


The same midrash continues: though “sea-walls” separated the respective paths, those walls were transparent; each tribe saw that his fellow tribe, too, had a legitimate path through the sea on the road to redemption.
Over the last several years, it’s clear that our community is moving in a similar direction. Within the larger framework of a Torah-based life, various initiatives have begun that give expression to the orientation of respective members of our community. It’s our duty to respect these differences and not, G-d forbid, feel threatened by them. Lest anyone think that encouraging others to follow their own spiritual path within Torah is a threat to the כלל, to the community, the Ohr HaHayim’s closing words provide guidance:ברך אותם וגו'. אמר "אותם" לשון רבים להיות כי ברכת כל אחד ואחד תועיל לעצמו ולכל אחיו - He blessed THEM…it says “them” in the plural, because the blessing to each one will benefit not only himself, but also his brothers….