Editor’s note: Rabbi David Levin is pinch-hitting with the weekly D’var Torah while Rabbi Richard Address is on vacation.
The Priestly Blessing is a message of hope in a troubled world. We have long wondered about the Priestly Blessing being placed in Parshat Naso. Many have posited it was out of place, belonging instead in Leviticus (9:22) when Aaron is told to bless the people. But I believe it is placed here purposefully as a message of assurance, to make sure we understand how important we are to each other and to the Almighty.
Naso contains a census of the Tribe of Gershon, the extraordinary stories of the Sotah, a test for the unfaithful wife, and the issues surrounding the intense vows of becoming a Nazirite. And only then do we read the Priestly Blessing; The three-line expansive blessing upon each of us that God protects us, is kind to us, and grants peace to us. It is actually the perfect response to the perplexing and difficult issues that preceded.
We are told we count. That was central in the previous Parsha, BeMidbar, and reiterated as the census to count the Gershonites. But then we are confronted with the Sotah and the Nazirite, as if to ask are there times when we do not count. We all struggle with life. We seek God’s blessings, we seek meaning, we seek good things, namely peace and a good life. But we find ourselves going off the rails. When this happens are we cut off from God’s blessing?
The Sotah is about accusations of infidelity. But in the absence of anything but circumstantial evidence, the magical test is administered by the Priest. The gravitas of this must be overwhelming. But even if a woman survived the test, would her husband fully welcome her home, without harboring some suspicions. Would trust ever be restored fully? Would others in the community maintain lingering doubts, rumors and stories placing an indelible stain on the woman’s reputation?
Someone taking the vow of a Nazirite may do it for lofty purpose, but based on our understanding of the things that motivate such action, we see the wisdom of Gersonides’ analysis that, A person takes such a vow to silence the unhealthy turmoil inside a person arising from a physical desire that might lead one to sin. Does the person who needed to take the Nazirite vow feel rejuvenated or reborn when the vow is complete? Does the thing that required such focus continue to linger in their souls? Such impulses can extend beyond lust to other impulses that can plague us emotionally or spiritually.
The Priestly Blessing is deliberately and thoughtfully placed here to say we struggle and we continue to struggle. It comes at us from all angles. It is part of being human in a world that is often fraught and difficult. Each of us has a struggle, a demon, a bad action, a feeling of inadequacy. It is part of who we are as human beings.
The Priestly Blessing is a wish for wholeness, a wish for Peace in an unpeaceful world. The Priestly Blessing is a wish for Peace; it is our yearning that these struggles do not mire us in a life that feels dark or hopeless. It is the profound hope that God is there to love and protect us even when we feel we have strayed so far away that we are beyond the reach of even the Almighty’s loving protective wings of peace.
Hope remains. God is there. We are not alone.
May the Almighty Bless you and Protect you.
May the Almighty deal kindly and graciously with you.
May the Almighty bestow Divine favor upon you, granting you wholeness and peace.