Blessings Abound | Parashat Naso

In recent years, it seems like the word “blessing” is on everyone’s lips. When I was a child the only time I heard the word “bless” outside of the synagogue was after another person sneezed and someone nearby responded either “God bless you” or just “bless you.” In Hebrew, a similar response would be livriut, to your health, which of course relates to divine blessing. Today, blessing is more than a prayer; it’s a state of being. We tell people they are blessings in our lives and we count our blessings publicly on Facebook. There is even an emoji for feeling blessed.

Our lives are enriched when we feel a sense of blessing in them, yet when we throw the word around we lose sight of the original role of blessing as a means to relate to God in our everyday lives. According to Rabbi Meir, “a person is bound to recite one hundred blessings daily.” (Talmud, Menahot 43b) Rabbi Meir was referring to b’rachot included in the liturgy, as well as blessings connected to food (HaMotzi and Birkat Hamazon), natural wonders and everyday miracles. These blessings primarily follow the traditional formula for b’rachot: Baruch Ata Adonai – Blessed are You, Adonai and then the specific content follows such as La’asok b’divrei Torah – to occupy ourselves in the study of Torah. In Rabbi Meir’s world, every action was a gift from God and a reason to celebrate the connection with the divine. As modern Jews, we sometimes forget the divine connection when we are surrounded by technology and rapid advancements in science. Many of us are removed from nature and the wonder of being able to produce what we need, and some of us are isolated from family and our communities both physically and spiritually. We need to be reminded that we are connected to and protected by God.

In Parashat Naso, God speaks to Moses about the manner in which Aaron and his sons will bless the people of Israel. (Numbers 6:22-26) Here, the focus is on the words that Aaron and his sons will speak. There are no references to choreography or timing for the recitation of the blessing.

The Eternal bless you and keep you!

The Eternal deal kindly with you and graciously with you!

The Eternal bestow [divine] favor upon you and grant you peace!

The meaning of these verses has perplexed commentators and learners alike. When we group the verses together as the Priestly Benediction, the text brings images of the times when it is spoken, whether during a Shabbat service, standing under a chuppah, or at home on a chag when a parent blesses a child. These images convey the desire to feel the divine embrace within communities and as families. Yet, each verse seems to point to specific areas of blessing which build upon the previous verse.

The Eternal bless you and keep you! We begin with basic needs, such as health, shelter, and sustenance. These are the things we need to survive and which can disappear in an instant. Thus, along with the blessing, we need protection. Rashi interpreted this section to be a blessing on material possessions. Ha’amek Davar wrote “This implies the blessing appropriate to each person; to the student of Torah success in his studies, to the businessman —in his business, etc.” (Cited in Leibowitz, Nehama,

Studies in Bamidbar, WZO, 1980, page 64). Whether we accept Rashi’s emphasis on possessions or Ha’amek Davar’s idea of individual success, the first phrase is about material success which needs to be cared for and protected.

The Eternal deal kindly with you and graciously with you!

A more literal translation of this verse might be “May God’s face shine on you.” How can we understand God’s face shining along with dealing kindly? This is the intimate relationship with the divine:  God will be with you and treat you graciously. What greater blessing could we ask for than to have a sense of the divine in our personal lives! This verse represents our spiritual needs being met.

The Eternal bestow [divine] favor upon you and grant you peace!

This is the climax, combining the material with the spiritual, and concluding with Shalom- peace. Shalom shares the root with shaleim – wholeness. Only when we are content with our lives and have a sense of the divine presence will we attain a level of wholeness and peace. When we live in a world of peace and understanding, then we will be truly blessed.

On a Shabbat I experienced one of those moments of contentment and peace. My oldest child and her child joined us for Shabbat. As I watched my husband recite the words of Birkat Kohanim for our daughter and our daughter recite them for her son, I was filled with a sense of awe and blessing. From generation to generation, we pray for material and physical well-being, spiritual connection and ultimately for wholeness and peace. May we each be so blessed and may our world know peace.


About the Author:

Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber is the executive director of Derekh: A Pathway into Adult Jewish Learning, and a consultant and teacher of adult Jewish learners. 

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