I finally finished writing about Isaac’s “deathbed” blessings for my book on Genesis. Isaac does not actually die for many more years, but the blessings are so vital to him, Rebecca, and their sons Jacob and Esau that all four characters engage in morally dubious behavior to get what they want. It took four essays and a Torah monologue to cover their moral psychology.
Isaac is the first person in the Torah to give what he believes is a deathbed blessing. The next is his son Jacob, who gives blessings to all twelve of his sons and two of his grandsons just before he expires in this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi. Here’s a link to my blog post about those blessings: Vayechi: Three Tribes Repudiated.
Both Isaac’s blessings in Toledot and Jacob’s blessings in Vayechi are like prophecies predicting what will happen the the descendants of the sons who are “blessed”–and the predictions are not all good. All the characters in Genesis take them seriously, because if God chooses to carry out a blessing, it comes true.
The only deathbed blessing I received from my father was his smile when I told him I loved him, and that was fine with me. If my mother gave me a Torah-style blessing when her life is about to end, I would find it creepy, even though I cannot believe there is a direct channel between her and God.
Will I want to give a deathbed blessing to my son? He and his wife do not plan to have any children, so no prophecies about their descendants are necessary. I would simply like to wish them good fortune and long lives.