The Torah Text
On his deathbed, Jacob offers each of his sons a blessing / prophecy in poetic style. Joseph’s blessing opens with the assertion that he is a ben porat, translated by some as a wild ass (JPS), a graceful son (Rashi), tall and handsome (Rashbam), and more. “Ben” literally means son, and “porat” appears to be from the root for fruitful or prolific. Ibn Ezra translates “ben” however as a branch. Much like a tree is often used as a metaphor for family relationships, here human family relationships become the metaphor for the tree – a branch is to a trunk as a child is to a parent.
The blessing further describes Joseph as having branches running over a wall. Ibn Ezra elaborates on the imagery.
Ibn Ezra’s Teaching
וטעם בנות צעדה עלי שור. שיוסף היה כבן פרת ועשה בנות. צעדה. כל אחת ואחת מהן על החומ’. והטעם שגבהו מאד על החומות הבצורות
[ITS BRANCHES RUN OVER THE WALL.] Joseph was as a fruitful vine. He gave birth to branches, each one of which ran over the wall; i.e., the branches were so tall that they ran over fortified walls. (Translation Strickman and Silver)
Reflections for the Path
The basic meaning of what Ibn Ezra describes is that Joseph’s offspring will be numerous beyond belief, perhaps even elevated and strong and growthful themselves.
One of the super-commentaries on Ibn Ezra, Yehuda Leib Krinsky, draws out further aspects of the imagery: “The branches were so tall that they needed a mighty wall to support them” (as translated in Strickman and Silver, p. 442).
I was delighted to discover this image of Joseph’s blessing being an abundance of growth, accompanied by a supporting wall because just this week my wife introduced me to a beautiful passage about the role of order and rules in our lives that similarly connects plant growth and wall-like supports.
“Someone once likened a rule of life to a rose trellis. Its purpose is to support, to set us free from the tyranny of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts,’ in other words, to set us free for growth. As such, it is an instrument to be used and adapted, rather than a monument carved in stone” (Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction).
What good rules do you have in your life that help you realize the blessing of Joseph, the blessing of supported growth?