Ibn Ezra

Ibn Ezra: Excess Blessing (Bechukotai)

The Torah Text

In the final Torah portion of Leviticus, God describes a series of blessings that will flow from honoring the covenant, and then a much longer series of curses that result from breaking the covenant.

Ibn Ezra’s Teaching

וריקי מוח אמרו כי הקללו׳ רבות מהברכות ולא אמרו אמת רק נאמרו הברכות כלל ונאמרו בקללות פרטים לירא ולהפחיד. השומעי׳ והמסתכל היטב יתברר לו דברי

Leviticus 26:14 The empty heads say that there are more curses than blessings. However, they do not speak the truth. What Scripture does is to speak of the blessings in general terms. However, it lists the curses in detail in order to frighten and scare the listeners. What I say will be clear to the one who reads the text carefully. (Translation Strickman and Silver)

Reflections for the Path

Ibn Ezra offers a profound anticipation of the great Israeli poet Yehudah Amichai’s poem, The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy.

The precision of pain and the blurriness of joy. I'm thinking
how precise people are when they describe their pain in a doctor's office.
Even those who haven't learned to read and write are precise:
"This one's a throbbing pain, that one's a wrenching pain,
this one gnaws, that one burns, this is a sharp pain
and that––a dull one. Right here. Precisely here,
yes, yes." Joy blurs everything, I've heard people say
after night of love and feasting, "It was great,
I was in seventh heaven." Even the spaceman who floated
in outer space, tethered to a spaceship, could say only, "Great,
wonderful, I have no words."
The blurriness of joy and the precision of pain––
I want to describe, with a sharp pain's precision, happiness
and blurry joy. I learned to speak among the pains. (Translation Chana and Ariel Bloch)

What Ibn Ezra and Amichai call us to is to develop an awareness of and vocabulary for blessing and joy. Evolution gave us an inclination to notice pain and fear – for good reason. But our spiritual tradition gives us an imperative to become better at noticing the excess of blessings that permeate our lives.

For more on Abraham ibn Ezra:
1. Read my introduction.
2. Listen to ibn Ezra’s opening prayer poem for his Torah commentary.
3. Explore the five paths, ibn Ezra’s introduction to his Torah commentary.