SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, 27 May 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Naso presents the mitzva of birkat kohanim – the special blessing with which the kohanim are to bless the rest of the nation.  This blessing concludes, “The Lord shall show you favor, and grant you peace” (6:26).

            The Gemara, in a famous passage (Berakhot 20b), tells that the angels in the heavens “challenged” this blessing, noting that it seems to run in opposition to an explicit verse later in the Torah.  In Sefer Devarim (10:17), Moshe lists numerous qualities of the Almighty, including the fact that “lo yisa fanim” – He does not show favor to one people over another.  How, the angels wondered, could God be prepared to show favor to Benei Yisrael, as expressed by the final verse of birkat kohanim, when He is described as never showing favor?  God responded to the angels’ challenge by saying, “Should I not show favor to Israel?  I wrote for them in the Torah, 'You shall eat and be satiated, and you shall [thereupon] bless the Lord your God' (Devarim 8:10), yet they are exact with themselves even for a ke-zayit and for a ke-beitza!”  Despite His general policy not to grant special favor to any particular individuals, God grants us favor because of our strict observance of the obligation of birkat ha-mazon.  Whereas He commanded us to recite a blessing to express gratitude after eating to satiation, we have accepted the practice enacted by Chazal to recite birkat ha-mazon even after eating smaller amounts.

            This practice, of reciting birkat ha-mazon even after eating just a ke-zayit, despite not experiencing satiation, has been viewed by many as reflecting the quality of histapkut – contentment and gratitude despite not receiving all that we desire.  Our Sages taught us through this provision that we are to give praise and express appreciation to God for everything we have, even when this falls short, or even far short, of satisfying all our wishes.  We are to train ourselves to feel content after receiving just a ke-zayit, modest amounts of material blessing, and avoid bitterness, frustration and jealousy when we fail to obtain all that what we want.

            On this basis, Rav Shmuel Kaufman, in his Tiferet Shmuel, offers an insightful explanation of the Gemara’s comment.  In the final verse of birkat kohanim, we are blessed, “The Lord shall show you favor, and grant you peace.”  The special “favor” the kohanim ask God to bestow upon us is the blessing of peace.  God’s response to the angels was that the blessing of peace does not, in truth, require a special degree of favor granted by God.  Rather, it is a natural outgrowth of our histapkut.  When people feel content with even just a ke-zayit, without experiencing envy or resentment over what they have not been given, then they are far more likely to live together in peace.  Anger and discord are more likely to erupt when there is discontent and dissatisfaction, when people feel their current circumstances are intolerable, that they cannot live with their current conditions and need to have more.  Thus, God does not “violate” His own rule of “lo yisa fanim” by granting us His special blessing of peace.  This special blessing comes naturally once we collectively master the art of histapkut, when we all learn to accept what we have, even if there is much more that we would ideally want.