"Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you; The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”” We are very familiar with the three sentences of the priests blessing to the Israelites, recited meticulously even in our days. The blessing speaks of protection, of illumination and of peace. Nechama Leibowitz, a noted Israeli bible scholar and commentator, says that this blessing of the priests are so well known not only to those who study Torah, but also to everyone who steps into a synagogue… we know these verses so well that we may forget their genuine content and smooth over their difficulties. Therefore, when we read this portion of the Torah we should look at them once again, maybe more carefully.
A Kes (Beta Israel priest) at the Sigd holiday in Jerusalem blesses the people
The priests are to bless the People of Israel in a very concise and accurate blessing that is supposed to cover all that they may need. One would think it is enough to say that god blesses a person but apparently it is not enough. It is important that all that we were blessed with, economically or spiritually, should be also carefully kept. Without keeping what we have receiving they can perish so fast that we may remain with nothing. Just think of the times we have received something of material value, or of spiritual value and have lost it forever. Think of a child learning a foreign language, not using it for some years, and all that we were blessed with has vanished, what was given was not maintained.
Rashi explains the verse “The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you” that God will show us a shining face and that he will bestow graciousness upon us. Others explain the Hebrew word וִיחֻנֶּךָּ as a pardon, forgiveness, an absolution. Once we have been cleansed and treated, receiving a new light, there is a place for us to be graceful, to portray our inner beauty, and let our internal light reach out and contribute to the light around us. And maybe, just maybe, in these days where the municipality of the township of Holon has decided to shut down a school jointly operated with the Movement and congregation Kodesh VaHol, this light speaks of education – חינוך – an education for tolerance, education for acceptance of the stranger, and education that there is more than one way to be a Jew. The foul attempt to yet again exclude the Reform Jew in the State of Israel, big or small, shall not be successful. I wish that all those politicians who are trying to spoil this wonderful educational experience will also be blessed with “The Lord make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you” so that they will be able to dutifully perform their public service in the light of day and not the darkness of the night.
Yes these blessing are not sufficient – for all of them to be fulfilled there is always the need for peace. One can live without war, without heroism, without sacrifice, but it is impossible for us not to have peace, or at least the hope for peace. The process of peace requires lifting things up because it is a tough task and works against gravity. We have to lift it up from where it is trod upon, mocked and devalued, because it is easier to drift to power, to force and to the imagined control. It seems that the words “The Lord lift up His countenance” have a significant meaning here, like a father or mother looking at their child, nodding their heads, a little insecure, fully knowing that they are losing control, but with the deep hope that the kid will know what to do with the peace that is placed in their hands.
In the book of Exodus, chapter 33 we read about Moses request to see the face of God and the response he received, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!... I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” Moses see the result of God passing by, not His face but this does not mean that the person was not seen and therefore can receive the blessing of peace. The hand of God that covered Moses is the same hand that lay peace before us. We just need to reach out, touch it, peace, seek for it and pursue it.
Reuven Marko, 9 Sivan 5777, 2 June 2017