By Rabbi Dr. Edgar Nof,
This Shabbat we will read Parashat Naso, the second portion in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), which is always read either before or after the Shavuot holiday.
Naso is the longest portion in the entire Torah (which contains 54 portions); from Numbers 4:21 – 7:89, it has 176 verses, (with 2,264 words!), and it fills over than 300 lines in a Torah Scroll!
(root) “NASO” (nun, sin, aleph), which gives the name to our portion, has at least three primary meanings:
May the sacred words of our Torah this Shabbat bring you Joy and Harmony, Good Health and Happiness, Love and Hope, God’s Peace, Blessing and Understanding.
The Priestly Blessing is the oldest Hebrew Text to be found in archaeological digs, dated to the 6th century BCE. According to research, it is possible that the Priestly Blessing was used in ancient days, during the First Temple Period, as a kind of “amulet” hung around the neck, close to the heart, in order to bring good fortune.
According to the Torah, the priests used to bless the children of Israel after offering sacrifices, and this is probably the reason why today in our prayer books, the priestly blessing appears toward the end of the Amidah service, right after the blessing of “Retse”, which symbolizes the devotion and worship of the Jews to God – in ancient days by animal sacrifice and today (after the destruction of the Second Temple) by prayer.
Many of us recite the Priestly Blessings every Shabbat, before the beginning of the festive Sabbath meal, when we bless our children. This is despite the Torah specifying that this is the responsibility of the Cohanim (Priests, descendants of Aaron) to do so, to put God’s name upon the children of Israel (Numbers 6:27). Since the concept of priesthood in the Liberal-Reform movement has been abandoned, each parent takes on the role of the priest.
For us in the Reform-Progressive Movement in Israel (IMPJ), now is a time of joy and blessing. Last weekend (May 23-24) thousands of proud Reform Jews in Israel gathered together to celebrate 50 years of existence as an established movement, in an inspirational and moving biennial.
It was a time of praying and a time of learning, a time of contemplating the courageous work of the first Reform Congregations and a time of dreaming for a future in which we will have full equal rights in the State of Israel. No more religious coercion, No more orthodox monopoly. A time of hope! A time of freedom of choice for Israel’s secular Jews!
As in our Torah portion, we the Reform Jews in Israel want to be taken into account, to be lifted up, as everyone else; not only serving in the IDF or paying taxes, but also with the religious equality promised in the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
My dear friend Reuven Marko, who leads every Shabbat and holiday service with me at Congregation Natan-Ya, was elected incoming chairperson of the IMPJ. Reuven is the son of Sara and Itzhak Marko, founders of Congregation Natan-Ya in 1969. Since the age of 13, and for the last 45 years, Reuven Marko has been the volunteer prayer leader of our congregation. As he has carried the sacred work of Natan-Ya with love, devotion and responsibility, we all know that with his great heart, kindness and creativity he will lead the Israeli Reform Movement over the next four years! We all salute you, Reuven and we have faith in your leadership.
For me, the message of peace and love found in Birkat Hacohanim is the oldest and the most beautiful of the Jewish religion. Since becoming ordained at HUC-Jerusalem in 1991, I have been working within Israeli society, trying to bring peace and understanding between Jews and non-Jews, Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, between Jews of all denominations, and between Jews that can help and Jews who need help. I am so fortunate that I have the possibility of working on Tikun Olam every day at Congregation Natan-Ya and at
Gesharim Le’Tikvah-Bridges for Hope
, and that so many wonderful Israeli Jews join me every day to do God’s work. I am blessed by all of them, and they strengthen me since they never gave up on the hope of a better Israeli society, based on the principles of justice and compassion of “Neviei Israel” (=the Prophets of Israel).
May the LORD bless you and guard you
יברכך ה’ וישמרך
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you –
יאר ה’ פניו אליך ויחנך
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace –
ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
I wish to send to all of our brothers and sisters in the WUPJ, in each country and continent, our blessing of Peace and Love to all of you.