A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
June 5-6 1998, Sivan 12 5758
Perhaps the most famous blessing is found in this week's Torah portion. The Birkat
Cohanim, the priestly benediction is recited by the priest and by parents to their
children every Friday night. (Numbers 6:24-26)
The benediction is divided into three sentences each containing two important elements;
God's blessing, and a prayer to avoid possible pitfalls of the blessing.
In the first part, the priest states: "May the Lord bless you and keep you." The
Sifrei understands this to refer to monetary benefits. But money has the potential
to corrupt. Therefore a blessing for money is not complete unless accompanied by an
assurance of protection from its dangers. Hence the last word of the sentence,
"May the Lord guard you."
In the second section, the priest states: "May the Lord cause His light to shine upon
you." The light of the Lord is often associated with Torah knowledge (Proverbs
6:23). However, while one can know every word of Torah,
one can still lack the ability to interact and engage others in an appropriate manner.
Hence, this blessing concludes with the word, ve-hunekah, from the word hen, grace.
This last statement is telling us to remain gracious to others because knowledge
often makes one insular -- even arrogant.
In the final part, the priest states," May the Lord lift His face to be near
you." This blessing expresses the hope that one should always feel the presence
of God, for too often we sense that God's face is hidden from us. (The Hebrew word yeesah,
to lift, is the opposite of God being lowered or hidden.) Although we hope to always
be absorbed in God's presence, sometimes even that experience can distort one's perception
of how to change the world.
Too often, religious people have done dastardly things
in the name of God. Therefore, the text concludes, with a blessing of a grounded belief in
God, of shalom, coming from the word shalem, whole.
This threefold blessing reminds us that there is no aboslute good. Every step
forward always contains the possibility of unforeseen problems. May we be belsees
with this awareness
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