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Parashat Naso 5778 — 05/26/2018

Bamidbar 4:21-7:89

So shall you bless the people of Israel:
“May Hashem bless you and keep you.
May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you.
May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.”
Let them place My Name upon the people of Israel, and I shall bless them.
(6:23-27)

The Kohanim still bless Israel using these words, on the festivals in the Diaspora and daily in Israel, and it is traditional for parents to bless their children on Shabbat and Yom Tov using them as well. On days when the Kohanim do not get up to bless the congregation (or if there are no Kohanim present), the prayer leader recites the blessing. On Yom Tov in Israel, hundreds of Kohanim and thousands of Jews gather at the Western Wall to bless and be blessed. The b’rachah that the Kohanim recite before performing the mitzvah of blessing Israel is “… Who has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.” If a Kohen does not feel love for the people he is blessing, he is actually required to not stand up and give the blessing. What a wonderful way to train a heart to love!

Abarbanel gives a number of explanations for the threefold nature of the priestly blessing. I want to focus on one of them.
• The first, and shortest blessing, concerns the physical world. May Hashem bless you refers to material blessings – abundance of crops, success in rearing children. [May Hashem] keep you (or guard you) refers to Gd’s protection – either so that the material blessings are not lost, or so that the material blessings do not corrupt us.
• The second blessing concerns the mental world, the world of knowledge and wisdom. It asks Gd to illuminate our minds so that we can grasp the deepest meanings, not only in Torah, but also in everything that we are presented with in the world.
• The third, and longest blessing, combines the material and the mental into a blessing that we should have wholeness of life (shalom / peace is from the root shaleim / whole). We ask Gd that we should be able to live 200% value of life – fullness in the inner, spiritual realm and fullness in the outer, material realm.

We have discussed many times that the human being is a composite of soul, which is divine, and body, which is physical. There is a purpose to this. Our Sages tell us that Gd created a world so that He could bestow blessings on it – that is, so that all levels of creation should grow in complexity and sophistication to best reflect the perfection of the Creator. For this to happen, there must be an interface between the transcendent and the manifest creation. It appears that Gd has chosen human beings to be that interface.

There are some religions that see the body and soul as being in conflict with one another, and indeed, on the surface, it appears to be that way. The activity of the body is directed outward, into the realm of physical creation. We are naturally drawn in that direction through the senses and the organs of action, because that is what they are designed to do – deliver information about the environment to our soul/consciousness, and translate intentions in our soul/consciousness into actions in the outside world.

Nonetheless, it is supposed to be the soul that is directing the show, and not the body.  The trouble arises when the body takes control, like a horse riding his rider, and ceases to serve the soul.

Our tradition sees the body and soul in complementary positions. The body is attracted to sensual pleasures, many of which are perfectly permitted, and even serve to enhance our spiritual growth. The prophetic works tell us of prophets whose access to the inner realms was enhanced by music and perhaps by various chanting or other performances. Wine, in moderation, is held to lift the spirits. In general, it is the natural tendency of life to seek growth and expansion, and physical growth and expansion is one legitimate outlet for this tendency. By contrast, living a life of unnatural privation may lead one to dwell obsessively on what one lacks, thus hampering spiritual growth. In any event, strain only produces distortion, not growth, and therefore our tradition does not prescribe austere practices to create spiritual growth.

Another look at the priestly blessing confirms this approach. First, we ask Gd for material blessings. It is important for the body to be in good working order and doing its job properly if we are to grow spiritually. On the other hand, we don’t want to get carried away and corrupted by material pleasures, so we request that Gd guard us from overindulgence.

Second, we request spiritual blessings. We ask Gd to draw us inward towards the source of all knowledge, which is within us. We ask Gd to turn towards us and lead us to union with Him, which is the ultimate in spiritual accomplishment.

Finally, we ask Gd to help us integrate both material and spiritual values in our lives.  Through this integration we infuse Gdliness, holiness, into the material world; every action we take raises the material and spiritualizes it, thereby fulfilling Gd’s very purpose in creation. We ask Gd’s blessing so that we may become perfect tools in His Hands to carry out the Divine plan for Creation.

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Parashat Naso “Lift Up”

Commentary by Steve Sufian

In this parshah, Gd gives Aaron and his sons, through Moses, the Priestly Blessing, three blessings that raise us up:
24.”May the Lrd bless you and watch over you. : יהְוֹהָ֖ ויְשְִׁמְרֶֽ כד יבְָרֶֽכ ְ֥
25. May the Lrd cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. ויִֽחֻנֶּךּֽ:ָ כה יאֵָ֨ר יהְוָֹ֧ה | פּנָָי֛ו אלֵֶ֖י
26. May the Lrd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.” שָׁלֽוֹם: ויְשֵָׂ֥ם לְ ֖ כו ישִָּׂ֨א יהְוָֹ֤ה | פָּניָו֙ אֵלֶ֔י

The result of these three blessings is:
27.”They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.” (chabad.org)

“Bless”, “watch over”, “cause His countenance to shine to you”, “favor you”, “raise His countenance toward you”, “grant you peace” — all these combine to bestow Gd’s Name on us, the result of which is that Gd blesses us.

What does it mean to have Gd’s Name (not “Names”) bestowed on us? To me, it means that the complexities of life are simplified, the many ways we experience Gd are united into One and our life becomes one with Gd, not separate from Gd: “All Your names are one” is a folk song line that puts this well. To me this means that within the Unity, the Oneness, the diversity still exists: we are One with Gd and yet also continue to play our roles as individuals, roles in which we continue to behave devotedly to Gd, to “Love Gd with all our heart, and soul and all our might” and to love Gd’s expression: Nature and people, to “love our neighbor as ourself.

What additional lifting up occurs when Gd blesses us?
To me this means that within the Unity, the Oneness, the diversity still exists: we are One with Gd and yet also continue to play our roles as individuals, roles in which we continue to behave devotedly to Gd, to “Love Gd with all our heart, and soul and all our might” and to love Gd’s expression: Nature and people, to “love our neighbor as ourselves. Gd, from His Point of View, blesses us, raises our individualities higher and higher so that there is no distance between Gd playing the role of Gd and Gd playing the role of Creation and us.

May today and every day we experience deeper and deeper openness to the Priestly Blessings, to Gd’s Name, to Gd’s Blessings and to living these and sharing these will all and all.

Love and Baruch HaShem