This week’s Torah portion is one that has challenged scholars and commentators for centuries. We meet the call for another census (Numbers 4). In chapter 5 we meet rules regarding the Nazirite as well as the description of a ritual, the “ordeal” when a husband accuses his wife of having relations with another man. (Numbers [5:11]ff). However, the most famous aspect of this portion rests in chapter 6 with the three fold Priestly Blessing, the blessing that so many of us know so well from years of synagogue and rituals.
Numbers [6:24]-26: “May God Bless you and protect you. May God deal kindly and graciously with you. May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.” Then verse 27: “Thus shall they link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them”. There are a variety of interpretations of these words. We are to be blessed with material goods God’s protection, the favor of grace and the gift of peace. The command is that this blessing is given by Aaron and the priesthood to the people. We understand that this is the oldest of blessings and raises, of course, the question of what it may mean to be “blessed” and if so, by whom?
Obviously the exchange seems to provide a link between God and mankind. But, are there other ways of looking at this?
I mention this as a result of a wonderful conversation that took place at a Torah study class this past week. We were looking at this blessing and the class was asked just to see, in the words, how the words impacted them. The class was all people over 50 years of age, ranging into the late 80s. Curiously, the group saw this blessing as a vehicle for internal change and blessing. It was as if, in saying it or having it said to them or for them, they understood that this blessing invited the light of the divine into their soul. They saw the gift of “shalom” (verse 26) as a sense of wholeness and completes, which is a part of the words’ root meaning and an interpretation that has been offered by others. They also looked at verse 27, the ending verse, not repeated as part of the blessing. In that verse, the class saw the idea of “lador vador”. that by embracing the blessing, ny welcoming a sense of the sacred into their life and affirming that, they were brought internal peace and, equally as important, they thought that this was a key to linking the generations. This was a group that, as a whole, did not believe in a supernatural all powerful being. Rather, they sought to personalize and internalize the blessing and its’ importance, but still saw, in the blessing, a vehicle to link one generation to the next.
I think that, as we get older, this idea of being able to give and accept blessing, to live a life that is embraced by blessing and seeing in this blessing of Numbers 6 a paradigm for bringing grace, protection, caring and peace to each of us; in doing so we bring a sense of “shalom” to us and a model to pass on to the next generation.
Rabbi Richard F Address