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Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

“May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (Num. 6:25)

“No justice, no peace!” is being chanted across the land this week, providing an unsettling soundtrack to this week’s parasha, or portion. Parashat Naso (Hebrew for “lift up”) includes b’racha ham’shuleshet, the three-fold blessing, three of the Torah’s most recognized verses: “God bless you and safeguard you. God’s face shine upon you graciously. God look upon you with favor and grant you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26) Many parents recite it to their children on Friday nights. Additionally, in some synagogues, on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the kohanim, descendants of the priestly class, ascend to the duchan, or platform, cover themselves with their talitot, or prayer shawls, and recite it to the congregation.

In Biblical times, b’racha ham’shuleshet is offered differently in the Temple than other places (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 37b). There, the kohanim recite it as one verse (instead of three). They raise their hands above their heads, (instead of shoulder level). Finally, the community responds with “baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam vaed, blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom for all eternity” (instead of amen). The single verse represents God’s unity, the upraised hands point heavenward, the source of all blessings, and the community proclaims God’s eternal nature. The kohanim perform the ritual this way this to evoke Isaiah’s prophecy of universalism, “… For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is. 56:7) God’s aspiration is for all of us to be in it together.

B’racha ham’shuleshet ends with an appeal to shalom, peace. It acknowledges no other blessing can be enjoyed when there is no peace. This Shabbat, maybe we all should offer it to one another.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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