The Priestly Blessing

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

STUDENT SUMMARIES OF SICHOT OF THE ROSHEI YESHIVA

 

 

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Parashat NASO

SICHA OF HARAV BARUCH GIGI SHLIT"A

The Priestly Blessing

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 

 

“God spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying, Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel. Say to them, ‘May God bless you and may He keep you; May God cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious towards you; may God lift His face to you and grant you peace.’ And they shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them.” (Bamidbar 6:22-27)

 

Who blesses the Jewish people? On one hand, we find, “Thus shall you bless… say to them”; on the other hand, God concludes by saying, “and I shall bless them.” In other words, it is God Who blesses the Children of Israel, via the kohanim. The role of the kohanim here is to declare or recite to the Children of Israel three verses, which “place God’s Name upon” them, and following this “I [God] shall bless them”. What is the meaning of this process, and what is the essence of the role of the kohanim?

 

Blessing – “berakha” – means bringing down Divine influence or abundance (shefa) into the world. A prerequisite for achieving this is an acknowledgment on the part of those who receive this gift that its source is from God. This acknowledgment causes further Divine influence or abundance to descend into the world, and the cycle continues. A person who recites a blessing is thanking God for the good that He has given, and in the wake of this acknowledgment the person becomes worthy and deserving of further and continues kindness from God.

 

The role of the kohanim amongst the Children of Israel is an educational one: “For the lips of the kohen shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek instruction from his mouth” (Malakhi 2:7); “They shall teach Your judgments to Yaakov and Your instruction to Israel” (Devarim 33:10). The educational message that the kohanim convey to the nation through their blessing comprises three separate declarations:

 

1.    “May God bless you and may He keep you.” Simply, this means Divine provision of physical needs – food, physical health, sustenance.

 

2.    “May God cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious towards you.” “Shining His face” refers to spiritual illumination, “For a mitzva is [like] a candle, and Torah is light” (Mishlei 6:23). “Graciousness,” too, is understood in this context in the spiritual sense.

 

3.    “May God lift His face towards you and grant you peace.” The “lifting of God’s face” means peace, completion, perfection of all worlds. There are people who have merited perfection in a certain sphere – whether the physical or the spiritual. There are some people who have been whole in body and have enjoyed great financial wealth, but have not achieved spiritual wholeness; there are also those who have achieved the opposite. In other words, there are those who achieve “blessing” but no “shining of the face,” while others achieve a “shining of the face” but without “blessing.” A situation of perfection entails wholeness in both spheres. As Chazal teach, where the Torah says that Yaakov “came [to] Shalem” – he was ‘shalem’ (whole) in body, whole in his wealth, and whole in his Torah” (Bereishit 33:18 and Rashi ad loc). Wholeness means harmony throughout God’s world.

 

The kohanim emphasize and repeat the source of all blessing, the source of all Divine influence and abundance. “May GOD bless you,” “May GOD cause His face to shine upon you,” “May GOD lift up.” Through this emphasis, they fulfill “They shall place My Name.” God’s Name will be mentioned frequently amongst the Children of Israel; they will know and understand that all goodness, blessing, illumination, graciousness and peace emanate from Him. Those who recognize God’s goodness and know that He is the source of goodness, will be blessed: “And I shall bless them.” The secret to opening the floodgates of goodness is to recognize and acknowledge goodness and the source of goodness. By educating the Jewish people towards gratitude, the kohanim cause God to continue to bless them.

 

This idea would seem to be connected to the location of this unit within parashat Naso. The preceding units deal with the guilt offering brought for misappropriation of sacred property, the laws pertaining to a woman suspected of adultery, and the laws of a nazirite. Each of these subjects involves some dimension of crisis, of spiritual deficiency – defilement, monetary or sexual lust, requiring atonement and/or separation.

 

The priestly blessing, appearing after these units, comes as a repair for these and similar human deficiencies. A person who constantly invokes God and is conscious of His blessings, will attribute all goodness in the world to the Creator. A person who recognizes that God is the source of all goodness will overcome his desires and will not submit to them in ways that are forbidden; he will not be led astray easily and will not come to sin.