This week, in Parasha Naso, we encounter one of the most famous passages of Torah. In Numbers 6 we read what is called the “priestly benediction”. God speaks to Moses who is instructed to speak to Aaron and his sons with the command to bless the people with the following formula: “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” (Numbers 6: 24-26)
For centuries, commentators have looked at these verses and mined a richness of meaning. It is based on the idea of a blessing and that is what I wish to play with with now. How do we become a blessing? We all have recited blessings. At lighting candles on Shabbat or Holidays, a “mazel tov” at a celebration or a “thank God” when getting good news. But how do we become a blessing? How do we have the capacity to bring blessing to our world at large and to the world of our own social circle, including our own soul?
First of all, lets look at the letter that begins the word for blessing, the “bet”. There are many interpretations of this letter. After all, it begins the Torah! It’s “gematria” (numberical value) is two. Perhaps that tells us that to be a blessing means that we must be involved with people. Indeed, that is part of our Jewish value system. Life is with people, meaning is derived from engagement with the world, not in isolation.
As we get a little older and have the capacity to look back and evaluate the lessons we can learn from life, we may be blessed with the knowledge that we have indeed been the recipient of many blessings and, we hope, have had the opportunity to be a conduit for blessing to , for, and with others. Now, looking forward, maybe we can take those lessons and apply them to the rest of our life. After all, that “bet” that begins Torah is open to the future. We can become or continue to be a blessing by being grateful for the “blessings” of life. Often these are the quiet victories or moments of life. These are moments that connect us with something greater than our own self. Is is a sense of gratitude that surrounds this idea of blessing. By celebrating our blessings, we can be in a position to bless others and model behavior and attitudes that engage this idea of gratitude, thankfulness and the sacred. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his famous speech and essay “To Grow In Wisdom”: “It takes three things to attain a sense of significant being: God, A Soul and a Moment. And the three are always there. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy”.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min
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.