The passuk states that Hashem benched Yaakov, “והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ, and your offspring will be as the dirt of the land.” What is special about having offspring as dirt?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that Hashem promised Yaakov that he will have a lot of offspring, just as there is a tremendous amount of dirt in the world. And the passuk continues, “ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה, and you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south.
Rabbeinu Chaya brings another explanation: dirt hints to humility and ma’aleh. When his offspring will be in exile amongst the non-Jews, they will be low and humbled, as dirt that everyone steps on. The ma’aleh is that his offspring will ascend above all the nations of the world and overpower them in the end. This is like dirt which is stepped on by all, yet by being walked on, the dirt becomes stirred up and will be blown upon those who walk on it. To add, during one’s lifetime he walks on top of the dirt, however, after one dies, he is buried in the ground and put inside and underneath the dirt that he walked on. If so, one should question himself, “How can a I feel haughty when in the end I will be below the dirt?”
The Seforno explains that the bracha of והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ, is conditional; after your offspring will be like dirt, then the following words will be fulfilled: “ופרצת ימה וקדמה וצפנה ונגבה, then you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south.” When you reach the level of the most appropriate humility, then you will spread out over all the borders of the land, in each direction. So too will be l’asid, after Klal Yisrael will have extreme humility in exile, Hashem will bring our savior, which will be as it has never been before. This is as it states in Navi Yeshaya, “כי יבא כנהר צר, when there will afflictions which flow as a river,” then, it states nearby, “ובא לציון גואל, the redeemer will come to Tziyon to save us.”
At the end of shemoneh esrei we say, “ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה, and my soul shall be like dirt to everyone.” What do we mean to daven that our soul should be like dirt? Tosfos explain that just as dirt is never finished off, therefore it cannot ever be destroyed, so too it should be the will of Hashem that one’s offspring should never finish. This is as the passuk states, “והיה זרעך כעפר הארץ, and your offspring shall be like the dirt of the land.” Tosfos understand the comparison to dirt reflects everlasting existence. Hashem tells Yaakov, “Your offspring will continue to exist forever and will never be destroyed, just like the dirt is never finished.”
Before ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה we say “ולמקללי נפשי תדום, and to those who curse me, my soul shall be silent.” Simply, a person davens that he should be silent from responding to those who curse him. The Maharsha puts together the words, “ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה” with the previous words, “ולמקללי נפשי תדום.” He explains ולמקללי נפשי תדום as “and those who curse me should be silenced as inanimate stone, from cursing me anymore.” So too ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה means, “And my soul shall be like dirt to everyone, that other people won’t pay attention to me at all. Rather I will be considered as dirt in their eyes and they won’t notice me, therefore they won’t want to curse me.”
May we merit the bracha that our offspring will be like dirt; to have humility, and to become many and everlasting.