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

“Let them place My Name upon the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them.” (Numbers 6:27)

Parashat Naso (Hebrew for “lift up”) is the longest portion in the Torah with 176 verses. Included among them are three short verses which are among the Torah’s most oft repeated: “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) Birkat Hakohanim, the priestly blessing, is included in the daily liturgy and is recited by many parents to their children on Friday nights.

Of course, neither priests nor parents can confer blessings; that is God’s prerogative. The three lines, then, are aspirational: no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, God will be gracious to us. And while classic commentaries interpret the first line to refer to material success, they also recognize this is only a stepping stone to spiritual plenty. So the second line refers to acquiring the light of Torah. Yet, even these two substantial blessings are incomplete by themselves. That is why the third line, which refers to God’s forbearance when we err, ends by asking for peace. No blessing can endure without peace.

The prooftext for this idea is Psalms 29:1: “God will give might to the nation, God will bless the nation with peace.” The rabbis interpret this to mean peace is the best container to hold Israel’s blessings and choose it for the final word of the Mishnah, the 2nd Century collection of rabbinic interpretations (Mishnah Uktzin 3:12). Tragically, peace remains as elusive today as in the Biblical era.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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