Most of this week’s Torah portion, Naso, deals with issues totally foreign to the Jewish people today. It begins with a census of the Levites; the tribe entrusted with the rituals of the tabernacle, our first holy space. Chapter five deals with impurity, betrayal, and adultery. The laws concerning adultery truly grate on us today; it has a misogynistic focus on women and displays the great vulnerability of them in ancient Israel. The seventh and last chapter of the portion discuss gifts for both the Levites and the altar. Naso concludes with Moses communicating with G-d in the “tent of meeting.”
Only in the sixth chapter of Naso do we find something very familiar to which we are able to not only relate but also affirm. These verses (Numbers 6:22-27) appear after a series of laws concerning the Nazarites. The Nazarites were both men and women who dedicated themselves to serving G-d. In becoming Nazarites they vowed to abstain from wine and all other intoxicants and to refrain from cutting their hair. To wit, Samson is the most famous Nazarite of all.
With all of the odd rituals discussed in Naso, it is refreshing that this portion includes the Priestly Blessing, perhaps the most familiar words of the Torah:
“May Adonai bless you and protect you!
May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you!
May Adonai bestow (divine) favor upon you and grant you peace!”
These words are ancient. During the last century archaeologists in Israel discovered two small silver scrolls dated to the late 7th or early 6th century BCE inscribed with this very text!
These blessings are not just spoken. They are generally pronounced by the kohanim, or the clergy. After each of these three blessings are spoken the congregation responds with the Hebrew phrase, “Kane y’hi razton!” (May this be G-d’S will!) One need not be a kohan to recite these blessings. It is a beautiful home ritual to bless children or grandchildren with these words before Shabbat or festival meals. You can bless those nearest and dearest to you! By doing so, you define kedusha (holiness). More importantly, you provide warm Jewish memories.
The words of the Priestly Benediction are simple, or are they? What do they really mean? Nehama Leibovitz, a brilliant Torah scholar asserts, “The first blessing is material, the second spiritual, the third combines both.” We are asking G-d to bless us materially but with a condition that wealth does not corrupt you; causing you to exploit others.
The literal translation of the second blessing is “May Adonai’s face shine upon you and deal graciously with you.” This is spiritual, asking G-d for the gift of G-d’S insight. Why does one need this insight? We need it for a most unselfish reason: to do G-D’S will. Perhaps this is more than mere spirituality. It is true, firm k’dushah.
Once again, there is a literal translation for the third blessing, “May G-d lift up G-D’S face to put peace within your grasp.” This third blessing provides a powerful summation of the first two. It teaches that bringing peace to this world enhances the lives of all and will (with G-D’S help) perfect this world.
These are our blessings.
This is our mission as Women of Reform Judaism.
Kein y’hi ratzon!
May G-d make this our will!
Sheilah Abramson-Miles is WRJ Central District President and a Member of the WRJ North American Board.