An Assembly of Nations

“…He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you into an assembly of nations.[1]‘”

Rashi comments that Jacob is recalling the blessing G-d bestowed upon him in Genesis 35:11, and I agree. This blessing, however, is not quoted word for word by Jacob. At that time, the Torah states, “G-d said to him [Jacob], “I am El Shaddai[2]. Be fruitful and increase. A nation and a community of nations will come from you and kings will come out of your loins.[3]

In Genesis 35, Jacob is returning home after a 20-year exile in the land of his father-in-law, Lavan’s home in Padan Aram. He has one daughter, eleven sons, and four wives – one of whom is very pregnant. In the midst of this travel three things happen:

  1. 1.       Devorah, his mother’s maidservant who was with Jacob, dies. Jacob buried her under the oak[4] tree north of Bethel[5].
  2. 2.       Hashem blesses him. He reassures him that Abraham and Isaac’s promises belong to Jacob and his children. This occurs in Genesis 35:9-12.
  3. 3.       Jacob’s twelfth son, Benjamin[6], is born and Rachel is favored wife dies from complications in childbirth. Jacob buries her in Bethlehem[7], which is on the way toward Efrat[8].

Since the blessing from G-d occurs before the birth of Benjamin, Rashi and the sages argue that “nation” refers to Benjamin. What are we to do, then, with the “community of nations?” In Genesis 48:5, Jacob elevates the two grandchildren he received from Joseph to that status of sons. This performs a twofold function. He fulfills the “community of nations” through the gain of two additional sons[9]. He also effectively establishes the Blessing of the Firstborn[10] to Joseph by providing him the double portion[11].

I dare not belittle these men’s comments, so I suggest another interpretation:

The Hashem blessed Abraham, he said, “All the families of the earth shall bless themselves through you[12].” Since blessings only come from Hashem[13], We can understand G-d’s comment to Abraham as relating to the families of the earth coming into the presence of Hashem where they receive the blessing of G-d. This is related to several passages of the Tanach that call the Temple in Jerusalem as the House of prayer for all people[14].


[1] Genesis 48:4

[2] Heb: G-d Almighty

[3] Genesis 35:11

[4] Heb: alon

[5] Heb: Beit El, which is about 15 miles north of Jerusalem

[6] Heb: Binyamin

[7] Heb. Beit Lechem

[8] Efrat is about six miles SSW of Bethlehem

[9] The “plural” of community of nations is fulfilled with the two brothers [Ephraim and Manasheh]

[10] Heb: behor

[11] See b.Horayot 5b-6a

[12] Genesis 12:3

[13] The website http://www.mechon-mamre.org/jewfaq/prayer.htm states the following: The Hebrew word baruch is not a verb describing what we do to G-d; it is an adjective describing G-d as the source of all blessings. When we recite a brakhah, we are not blessing G-d; we are expressing wonder at how blessed G-d is.

[14] 1 Kings 8:41, Isaiah 2:2-3, 56:7, Jeremiah 3:17, Micah 4:1-3, Zechariah 2:11, Malachi 1:11

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