SALT - Chag Shavuot - Motzaei Shabbat, May 19, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Naso presents the mitzva of birkat kohanim – the special blessing that the kohanim are commanded to pronounce to the rest of the nation.  This blessing concludes with the wish, “Yisa Hashem panav eilekha” – that God should “raise His countenance” upon the people, which is understood as a reference to showing them special grace and favor, beyond that which is normally extended to people.  Thus, for example, the Torah in Sefer Vayikra (19:15) commands, “Lo tisa penei dal” – not to show special favor to a pauper when he stands trial, in consideration of his difficult plight.  The term “nesi’at panim” refers to special treatment, showing people favor and judging them in an especially magnanimous manner because of a favorable predisposition.
            The Gemara, in a famous passage in Masekhet Berakhot (20b), tells that the heavenly angels posed to the Almighty the question of how He allows Himself to show Benei Yisrael special grace and favor.  After all, in Sefer Devarim (10:17), Moshe lists several different attributes of God, including “lo yisa fanim” – that He does not show favoritism, and holds all people equally to account for their wrongdoing.  How, the angels wondered, could God violate His own principles by showing special favoritism to Am Yisrael?  The Gemara tells that God responded to the angels by noting the special stringency that Benei Yisrael adopted in regard to the obligation of birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals).  Whereas the Torah requires reciting a blessing only after eating to satiation (“Ve-akhalta ve-savata” – Devarim 8:10), Benei Yisrael have taken it upon themselves to recite birkat ha-mazon even after eating small quantities (as long as one has eaten a ke-zayit – the volume of an olive – of bread).  For this, God explained to the angels, they are deserving of His special favor.
            This story told in the Gemara is commonly understood as expressing the importance value of “histapkut” – feeling content and happy even when we do not feel fully satiated.  Even when our blessings in life fall short of our hopes, wishes, desires and expectations, we are still to feel grateful, appreciative, joyful and content with our lot.
            On this basis, Chatam Sofer insightfully suggests a possible point of connection between the blessing of “Yisa Hashem panav eilekha” and the concluding blessing of birkat kohanim – “ve-yaseim lekha shalom,” the blessing of peace.  Chatam Sofer explains that one of the most critical prerequisites for living in peace is “histapkut,” the serenity that comes from feeling content with what one has.  Many arguments erupt when people are unyielding in their demands, and unforgiving when their demands are not met.  If we live with “histapkut,” humbly and calmly accepting our lot without feeling deprived, we are far less likely to become aggrieved and far more likely to forgive.  This will, in turn, lead to a more peaceful life and stronger relationships with the people around us, in fulfillment of the blessing of “ve-yaseim lekha shalom” – the blessing of peace, which is the greatest blessing of all.