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

“And the chieftains of Israel, the heads of their ancestral homes,
those who were in charge of enrollment, drew near.” (Numbers 7:2)

Parashat Naso (Hebrew for “lift up”) is the longest portion in the Torah. Its 176 verses include three of the Torah’s most recognized: “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 them to their children on Friday nights.

These verses (called b’racha ham’shuleshet, or the three-fold blessing) are the source of two other rituals. They are the reason three people are called up to bless the Torah on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat afternoons (Babylonian Talmud M’gilah 23a). Additionally, in some synagogues, on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the kohanim ascend to the duchan, or platform, cover themselves with their talitot, or prayer shawls, and recite them, word by word, to the congregation. This echoes Aaron’s offering of the same blessings to the Israelites in the mishkan, or Tabernacle.

The simple language of the blessing’s opening line (“God bless and safeguard you”) hides a potent message. Most commentators explain God’s blessing refers to material things and God’s protection refers to physical loss or harm. But Rabbi Joseph Hertz (1872 –1946; Hungarian-born former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom) offers a different perspective, saying God’s protection is needed to keep us from becoming obsessed with our possessions. This reading provides a guide to achieving the ultimate blessing of the final line: shalom, or peace. The root sh-l-m also can mean wholeness and that’s the key: peace can come only when we are not driven to take more than we need (from the earth or from others), but are whole or complete with what we already have.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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