Torah from around the world #17

by Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Senior Rabbi,

Emanuel Synagogue

, Sydney, Australia

Parashat Naso is the lengthiest of Torah portions in our reading cycle, discussing the


(teaching the notion of mind over matter), the


(teaching the tension between the physical and spiritual) and

chanukat habayit

(a passage also read at the festival of Chanukah and teaching about gratitude).  Naso also contains in 15 short words one of the Torah’s most beautiful and meaningful passages, which is known as the Priestly Blessing or “threefold benediction”.  Much has been written about the exquisite structure of the Priestly Blessing and its development from verse to verse.

The Rabbinical Assembly’s Etz Chayim notes, “The text of this passage has been found on silver amulets dating from the late 7th century BCE, the only known inscription with a biblical text that predates the Babylonian exile.”  The proven antiquity of these verses highlights not just their historical importance in Jewish life, but also the eternal message at the heart of Judaism.  While aspects of law and ritual change, Judaism’s purpose of connecting human and God in the physical, intellectual and spiritual realms remains core and constant.

At the same time, each generation receiving this blessing has discovered new meaning within it, passing that insight down to the next.  One teacher has noted that each blessing has a double formula, the second part reinforcing the first as follows:

May God bless you – with physical abundance and prosperity; and protect you – from the dangers of robbery on the one hand and greed and selfishness on the other.

May God’s face shine upon you – with the endowment of enlightenment and intelligence; and be gracious with you – so that one’s intellect is not used with disdain and arrogance, but with generosity of purpose.

May God’s countenance be lifted toward you – with the deepest connection to the spiritual realm; and bring you peace – so that one’s religious understanding is never used as a club or a sword against the other, but as a path for finding wholeness within, between and among.

We often hear the Priestly Blessing, many of us blessing our children each Shabbat with these words.  Each time, we transmit the most ancient of our ancestral teachings.  This Torah portion reminds us of our central task as Jews: to connect with God in our physical bounty, intellectual growth and spiritual practice, always cognisant of our duty to the other – where God also dwells – and our ultimate goal of creating peace.

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