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

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,’ Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well,
according to their fathers’ household, according to their families.’” (Numbers 4:21)

Parashat Naso contains the three-fold blessing Aaron uses to bless the Israelites. It is also known as birkat hakohanim, or priestly blessing and is included in the daily liturgy and recited by many parents to their children on Friday nights.

The bracha, or blessing is straightforward: “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). But the angels object to this favoritism, complaining it is not just, citing: “For Adonai your God….does not show favor…” (Deut. 10:17). God answers with, “When you eat and are satisfied you must bless Adonai, your God.” (Deut. 8:10) and explains: if the Israelites take care to recite a blessing over an olive-sized portion, even though they are not satisfied by such a small portion, how can I not show them favor? (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 20b).

Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains God is mindful leniency (showing favor) can trigger two different responses: entitlement with no sense of accountability or gratitude with a sense of indebtedness. God takes the Israelites’ scrupulous expression of gratitude for food as evidence there is no danger of their descending a “slippery slope,” and extends spiritual credit.

Rabbi Judith Abrams (1958-2014; award-winning educator and pioneer of online Talmud study) points out the blessing itself reinforces this reading. When the three lines are arranged in a pyramid, the middle word of each line reads (from top to bottom) adonai panav eilecha, God’s face to you. If we do our part, God will follow suit.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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