God’s Blessing Flows Through Us

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Rabbah Arlene Berger

This week’s Torah portion is Naso: Numbers 4:21-7:89.

Parshat Naso contains some of the most powerful words of our people:

Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:

Yivarechecha Adonai viyishmirecha
Ya’er Adonai panav elecha veechuneka
Yeesa Adonai panav elecha viyasem lecha shalom

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them (Numbers 6:23-27).

These words are read every year on the Shabbat after Shavuot. They are given to the kohanim, the priests, as an eternal charge. They are told that one of their responsibilities will be to bless the people. The above words are what they are to say.

This section of instruction ends with the phrase, “and I will bless them.” This indicates that the blessing comes not from the kohanim but rather flows through the kohanim. The words with which the kohanim are instructed to bless us, also tell us something important: The kohanim are the vessels through which God’s words come to us.

When the Israelites lived in the land of Israel and the Temple existed, the kohanim were able to fulfill their charge and bless the people during a ceremonial Temple service. Once the Second Temple was destroyed, the kohanim were unable to perform many of their formal roles, including the ritual blessing.

Over time, Judaism evolved, and in the early 17th century the custom of parents blessing their children on Shabbat with these words began to be mentioned in books. (See “Brautspiegel,” a popular treatise on morals, written by Moses Henochs; a book which appeared in Basel in 1602.)

It is not surprising we took one of our most sacred moments of blessing and preserved it by using it as a blessing in the home. of our children. The talmudic sages began this process of innovation in exile in order to make sure that our heritage, the Torah and its teachings, would survive, even when we no longer had a Temple in which to worship.

From kohanim blessing the children of Israel at the Temple to parents blessing their children around the dinner table, we have drawn a direct line from the biblical injunction for the kohanim to recreating that moment of sanctity in our homes. We are taught that every Jewish home is a mikdash me’at, a miniature sanctuary, a small holy place. It is as if the table at which our families gather, eat and celebrate holidays takes the place of the altar.

I have blessed my children nearly every Shabbat of their lives. It is always the holiest moment of my week ― whether the blessing occurs around the dinner table, on the run as the grandchildren are being put to bed, by letter, email, text, phone call or video chat. The realization that I am transmitting these holiest of words, even in the most chaotic of moments of blessing, brings me peace. It is a profound feeling to know that I am a link in the chain of our long history and our tradition.

The words of the blessing, God’s words, flow through us because, as is stated, “and I will bless them.” My greatest desire is that these words will continue to flow through my grandchildren and the generations to come. ■

Rabbah Arlene Berger is a rabbi at Hevrat Shalom Congregation in Rockville and a community chaplain.

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