Blessings and Curses

Blessings and Curses in Leviticus:

Israel was Blessed,

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

But the Mosaic covenant was conditioned on obedience,

If… you will not listen to me… I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain…

The ultimate consequence was exile. “And you will be scattered to the nations…”

End of story then? No.

If they confess their sins… if then their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob… Isaac and Abraham… and I will remember the land.

Blessings at Dawn

In Jewish tradition, blessings are said at dawn each morning. The prayer book of Rab Amram Gaon contains 18 blessings – one of which states:

Blessed are thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who hast given to the cock the mind to distinguish between day and night,
who opens the eyes of the blind.
who clothest the naked.
who settest free them that are bound.

Another blessing, attributed to Rabbi Judah from end of 2nd century, has been widely discussed,

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who hast not made me a heathen,
…who has not made me a slave,
…who hast not made me a woman.”

Many versions of the blessing exist. For example, a longer version was found in the Cairo Genizah.

“Blessed are you our God, King of the Universe, for having created me a human being and not an animal, man and not woman, Jew and not Gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not a slave, pure and not impure”.

The blessing echoes an earlier Greek blessing attributed by Plutarch to Plato as he was dying,

Plutarch, in his Lives, Caius Marius, 46, attributes to the dying Plato an act of thanksgiving to Fortune for having been created a man, and not an animal, Greek and not barbarian. (F. Manns, Jewish Prayer in the Time of Jesus, 118)

Diogenes Laertius attributes a similar saying to Socrates,

Hermippus in his Lives refers to Thales the story which is told by some of Socrates, namely, that he used to say there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune: first that I was born a human being and not one of the brutes; next that I was born a man and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian.

These prayers are remarkably contrasted by Paul (1st century AD) in Col. 3:11 (cf. Gal. 3:18)

There is no Greek or Jew here,
circumcised or uncircumcised,
foreigner or Scythian,
slave or freeman.
Rather, Christ is everything in all of You.

This statement contained the seeds of ideas which ultimately brought about the emancipation of women and slaves.

(source: F. Manns, Jewish Prayer in the Time of Jesus, 1994 Franciscan Printing Press)