Easily the most famous passage in this week’s portion, Naso, is the so-called Priestly blessing. (Numbers 6:22-27) This three-fold blessing makes its appearance at many services, festivals, life-cycle events and more. It is the role of priests in Torah times and clergy today. It is our oldest of formal blessings and it comes as the portion ends; a portion that has other issues to discuss, such as the vow of the Nazarite and the always controversial ritual that tests if a woman has committed adultery. (Numbers 5). So many serious issues here, from trust and faith in relationships to asceticism. It is the priest who is given the task of blessing the people.
The question I raise with you for this Shabbat emerges from this idea of a blessing: how can each of us be a blessing? What does a blessing mean to you? Do we need a clergy person to bestow it? Or, as we get older, do we not realize that we may be blessed by so many other things and that these are also blessings? How can each of us “be” a blessing?
That is something that we do not speak about enough. We discuss the formula for blessing,( the Baruch atah Adonai), and we repeat them or pray them when we go to synagogue or sit at the seder or participate in a wedding or b’nai mitzvah. We receive blessings, we participate in blessings but how do we or can we “be” the blessing? Let me suggest that this question is very meaningful as we get older, and the blessing is not the same as doing the mitzvah.They may, in some cases merge, but they are not the same.
So, how can each of us “be” that blessing? The tradition, I think, does give us the answer in that it reminds us that life, meaning, and purpose derive from our engagement with and for others. That is why relationships at our age are so important. That is why community is more important than theology when it comes to congregational life. We receive many blessings every day, and we are also called up on be a source of blessing to others: our family, or friends, the world at large. Indeed, there are commentaries that speak to the threefold elements contained within the blessing as going from the personal to the communal. However, you choose to see this passage, it does challenge us to “be” a blessing. It may be the blessing of kindness, or compassion, or presence. It may be a blessing of study or acts of tz’dakah. The merit or reward of being a blessing is beyond any tangible reward. Think about this, if we could educate people from childhood on about the power of blessing, what changes could be possible? What would a religious school curriculum based on educating for blessing look like?
Maybe we can evolve into a being a personality of blessing. What would that entail? What changes in your life would you make to be a person of blessing? Lest you think this is fantasy, look at the world in which we are living and ask yourself if this world could not use a lot more people who see blessing as a core value, a value to be modeled as they interface with others. Just to “be”, as Heschel wrote, is a blessing. So, as you give thanks for the blessings of life and beauty, grandchildren, health, friends, and family; ask yourself how you can then take those blessings and give them back to the world.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.