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Parashat 03/23/2011

Parashat Shemini
by Robert Rabinoff

And Aharon raised up his hands towards the people and blessed them. (9:22)

Rashi: The Priestly Blessing (BaMidbar 6:24-27)

And they [Moshe and Aharon] went out [of the Tent of Meeting] and they blessed the people. (9:23)

Rashi: They said “May the pleasantness of H’ our Gd be upon us” (Tehillim 90:17 – this is the first of 11 Psalms, 90-100, that were composed by Moshe)

And you will be a blessing. (Bereishit 12:2 – referring to Avraham Avinu)

Rashi: From now on, [giving] blessings is up to you!

Many great people in Tanach give blessings, and in fact the Jewish people as a whole is supposed to be a “blessing” for the rest of the world, as we are told in the aftermath of the Akeidah: “Through your offspring all the people of the earth will be blessed” (Bereishit 22:18).   A modern Rabbi once commented that a big problem in our society is that we are “under-blessed” and that we should make it a point to give one another blessings.  Obviously a blessing is nothing to sneeze at, but what is actually taking place when we give or receive a blessing?

In discussing the Priestly Blessings, we note that the word “bless” only occurs in the first line: May H” bless you and protect you.  The commentators point out that this indicates that a blessing means material increase, for it is only in the material world, the world of decay, that the blessing would need to be preserved/protected.  The first place the word “blessing” is used in Torah is on the 5th day of creation, Gd blesses the birds and the fish saying “be fruitful and multiply.”  Clearly this is a material blessing.

Our Tradition teaches us that creation is structured in layers, from subtle and ethereal to gross and physical.  At the “center” of creation is Gd, Who as it were “contracted” Himself to leave room for finitude to exist.  At the greatest remove, as it were, from Gd, is the physical world.  In the physical world the energy and intelligence that Gd has emanated throughout all the layers of creation is most congealed.  (This idea has its parallels in modern physics incidentally.)  It is important to note however, that Gd did not create and then simply sit idly by and watch the Creation spin on its own.  Rather Gd is intimately involved in every aspect of creation, great or small, and it is only on the basis of a constant flow of Divine energy and beneficence that anything exists.

I believe that it is this flow of Divine energy, that sustains us and allows us to grow, that we call “blessing.”  When we give a blessing, we are asking Gd to direct this energy to the recipient of the blessing, perhaps in order to fulfill a specific need, or perhaps as a general “elixir of life.”  From the verses surrounding the Priestly Blessing, it is clear that the Source of the blessing is only Gd; the Kohanim merely act to catalyze the delivery of the blessing to the assemblage. (BaMidbar 6:27).

In the case of the fish and the birds on Day 5, Gd delivered the blessing of fecundity directly.  In the case of human beings of course, the relationship is more complex.  Human beings appear to be the only creatures capable of full self-awareness; that is, awareness of all the layers of our personality, from its unbounded, infinite core to all its surface manifestations.  It is through that awareness that we bring energy and intelligence from the center to the surface.  If our awareness is limited, the level of Divinity we can bring to bear on anything is similarly limited.  When our awareness is fully expanded, these limitations disappear; being in constant contact with the subtlest levels of manifestation, we are able to serve as a conduit for the most profound and powerful currents to course into the most manifest levels of creation from the transcendental core of creation.  Thus Aharon, having just performed the offerings that joined him most profoundly to H”, spontaneously raises his hands and shares that communion with the nation.  Similarly, when Moshe and Aharon come out of the Tent of Meeting, where they had met Gd most intimately, immediately pass that profound experience on to the people, each to the extent that he or she is able to receive it.

The Jewish people’s special mission on earth is to create a society that is so profoundly connected to the Divine that we form a conduit much greater and wider, and able to accommodate a much, much greater flow of Divine bounty, than we could ever create on our own, even in aggregate.  It is our job to take a world of strife and disharmony, of shattered dreams and broken lives, and turn it back into a Garden of Eden.  Our Tradition tells us that the purpose of creation was that human beings come to know Gd.  Our Torah and our Oral Tradition show us the way not only to know Gd ourselves, but to make Gd’s Presence manifest throughout all creation, showering the blessings of peace and wholeness upon all Gd’s creatures.