Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb ברך (barak) may either mean to bless or to kneel. It's not clear which of the two meanings came first; whether the action of kneeling came from the action of blessing or blessing came from kneeling, but in the Bible the two are thoroughly intertwined. The same duality occurs in cognate languages but some scholars insist that the common Semitic root ברך (brk) should be split into two separate verbs that have nothing to do with each other.
Whatever the true etymology, our verb occurs with the meaning to kneel only about three times (2 Chronicles 6:13, Psalm 95:6, and - of camels - Genesis 24:11) and hundreds of times with the meaning of to bless. From these many occurrences, we learn that to the Hebrews, the act of blessing had to do with "to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etcetera," as HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament puts it.
Hence people bless God (Genesis 24:48), or bless the name of YHWH (Psalm 96:2); God blesses a people (Numbers 23:20), the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3), labor (Deuteronomy 28:12), a field (Genesis 27:27) and food (Exodus 23:25). Men bless men in honor (Deuteronomy 10:8) in meeting (Genesis 47:7), or in departing (Genesis 24:60), in congratulating (Genesis 12:3), or in homage (2 Samuel 14:22).
Note that in legislative Scriptures, this verb occurs often juxtaposed with the verb ארר ('arar), meaning to curse, or rather to bind or restrict (sometimes by means of a spell). If these verbs are truly each other's opposites, we may conclude that the verb ברך (barak) conveys a liberation or unrestrictedness. Its core idea is possibly the freedom which truth brings about (John 8:32).
The derivations of this verb are:
- The feminine noun ברך (berek), meaning knee. Although the verb rarely means to kneel this noun occurs frequently (Genesis 30:3, Judges 7:5, Ezekiel 47:4). The knee was known to the Hebrews literally as a free-one, perhaps because of the agility of the knee, but probably more so because nimble knees give freedom to a person. Worn or seized knees are literally a curse: they restrict a person from moving about freely.
- Another feminine noun, ברכה (beraka) means a blessing (Genesis 27:12, Isaiah 19:24).
- The similar noun ברכה (bereka) means pool or pond (2 Samuel 2:13, Ecclesiastes 2:6) but the relation to the verb is unclear. Perhaps a pond was reckoned as a blessing (see our article on the Greek noun ουρανος, ouranos), or perhaps the moniker arose from having to kneel for a drink.