Parashat Naso: You Shall Bless and be Blessed
By: Rabbi Y. Lindsey bat Joseph, executive director of the
Sol Mark Centre for Jewish Excellence
in British Columbia, Canada.
parashat Lekh L’kha
, the Holy One promises Abraham “… I will bless you … And you shall be a blessing … and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you” (Genesis 12:2-3). In
, we are given the priestly benediction, the quintessential prayer through which we shall both bless and be blessed.
Within the context of the
, Moses is told that these are the words with which Aaron and his sons will bless the people of Israel (Numbers 6:23). With the destruction of the Temple, the role of the priest as the prime functionary at our religious services disappeared, but the priestly benediction did not. The great rabbis of Jewish tradition saw within each verse a double wish – one connected to God and one connected to our lives on earth.
In the first verse of the blessing, “The Eternal bless you and protect you!” (Numbers 6:24), “bless you” is understood as expression of the hope that God will bless us with material wealth in this world.
on Numbers 6:24 connects this specifically to the blessings of bounty stated in Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Tradition, however, also acknowledges that material wealth can often lead us to sin. So, the words “protect you” are a plea that God protect us from those sins; i.e., that we possess the wealth and that it not come to possess us (Hertz).
The second verse is often rendered, “The Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you!”(6:25), but “
ya-eir Adonai panav elekha
” literally translates as “the Eternal make His face to shine upon you”. The verb
, to “shine” or to “light,” is understood here as a request that God enlighten us with Torah (Sforno). According to Sifrei, asking God to “deal graciously” refers to finding favour in the eyes of others.
The benediction concludes with the verse, “The Eternal bestow [divine] favour upon you and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6:26). Again, the rabbis see a two-fold plea. According to Rashi, bestowing divine favour is for God to respond to sin by suppressing Divine wrath. The concluding phrase is understood by the rabbis as an appeal for peace since, “one may have prosperity … but if there is no peace, it is all worthless” (Sifra, B’chukotai).
It is important to remember here that shalom, peace, in Hebrew does not refer to the cessation or lack of hostilities. It is grammatically linked to the word shaleim – wholeness, or completeness. To have shalom is to have a sense of being whole or complete. I believe that sense of wholeness or completeness is connected to the very nature of this blessing – the fact that this is a blessing we offer to, or confer upon others.
We often quip that in Judaism “there’s a blessing for everything.” There are indeed many
(blessings) that sanctify and ‘make special’ seemingly ordinary moments in our lives as well as moments specifically connected to holy days. As a Jew who loves ritual, I regularly recite
(blessings) for various daily tasks as well as for rituals connected to the holidays, but if we think about it, most of those blessings are connected to actions or things. Even the blessings which contain within them the acknowledgement of sacred space and time, are blessings connected to actions with things – kindling candles, blessing wine, waving a lulav, or putting on a tallit, to name just a few examples. While it is true that the
, the blessing for bread, acknowledges God’s role as creator and the words “brings forth bread from the earth” often calls to mind the labour of farmers who tend the crops that ultimately find their way to my dinner table, bread and produce are still ‘things’. These daily and holiday
are essentially an acknowledgement of an obligation to be fulfilled (kindling candles, putting on tallit, etc.) or an expression of appreciation or thanksgiving (blessings for bread, rainbows, etc.). But but there is something quintessentially different in the act of pronouncing a blessing on another human being. There is something different in being blessed by another person. Such blessings have a special power about them.
As a mother and grandmother, I have blessed my children and grandchildren at the Shabbat dinner table many times. As a rabbi, I have had the privilege of pronouncing this specific blessing for many people for many milestone occasions such as welcoming a child or convert into the covenant, blessing a newly married couple or a bar or bat mitzvah, as well as over my entire congregation at various services. There is something extraordinary in each experience of blessing. None of us has the power to speak and have everything we desire come into being, nor do we have the ability to compel God to fulfil our wishes. The words might be “magical” in a spiritual sense, but not in any practical way – at best, we can hope that we succeed in calling God’s attention to our needs, hopes, and aspirations. Yet it is in the moment of the blessing itself that we find the power because the action of blessing another can be empowering. The blessings we offer for another person are not the fulfilment of an obligation or an expression of thanksgiving. By calling upon God to bless someone else, to protect them, to look favourably upon them and grant them peace, we convey our best hopes, our highest aspirations, for that person. In the act of blessing we open ourselves up to others, to God, and to the realisation of what is best in us. In the act of blessing another, we become a blessing, and in turn find ourselves feeling blessed. This is the sense of completeness, of wholeness, that is the promise of true ‘shalom’.
The Torah, a Modern Commentary: revised edition. Eds. W. Gunther Plaut and David E.S. Stern. New York: Union for Reform Judaism, 2005: (930-31; 943-44).