I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
(Genesis 12:2, NRSV)
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
(Genesis 12:2, JPS Tanakh)
The Hebrew form of the verb “to be” poses numerous translation problems as shown by the two above translations, the first being the New Revised Standard Version (1989) and the second from The Jewish Publication Society (1917). The verb can be translated to the present, past, or future tense. The verse ends with either a prophetic promise for the future—“you will be a blessing”—or a present context command, “be thou a blessing.” Some interpreters of this verse consider it to be one of the first two “commandments.” The first, “be fruitful and multiply” from the first chapter of Genesis (1:28) and the second from the twelfth chapter of Genesis: “be thou a blessing.” These instructions, in contrast to many of the Ten Commandments, are stated in the affirmative rather than the negative (“do not”). The affirmative “be a blessing” creates a context for “right action” and runs parallel to the affirmative statements of Jesus like the commandment to “love God with all your heart and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” The context is also very general, leaving much to Abram’s, and our, interpretation. Our personal circumstances, or the context in which we find ourselves, cannot be addressed by the command. Our closeness to God, just as Abram was close to God, can be understood as the source of our understanding of how to put into action the command. We will know according our knowledge of God.
God of presence, may we be mindful of how intimately you are connected to us. Help us trust in this presence and help us to call on the promise “be a blessing” contains as well as the power it holds as part of your law. Help our faith and our understanding of how to apply the love you have given us and how to access for the highest good the love that is the source of our life. May we be your love, may we be present as a container of your presence, and may the power of your being make us whole. Amen.