Friday, June 5, 2020 /13 Sivan, 5780
Parashat Naso II Numbers 6:1-7:89
I was 19 when I began to understand the power of a blessing. Josh and I were newly dating, and I was invited to his parents’ house for the first time. There I found a Shabbat table adorned with candlesticks, wine glasses, and challah. First, we said the blessing over wine. Then something happened that I had never witnessed before. Josh’s father invited Josh and his brother, Ben, up to the front of the table. They lowered their heads, as their father said these words:
May God bless you and keep you.
May God deal kindly and graciously with you.
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.
These words of blessing, nicknamed the Priestly Benediction, originate from this week’s Torah portion, Naso. In it, God tells Moses to instruct Aaron to say these words to the Israelites. When Aaron can no longer offer them, his sons will offer it in his stead. The benediction is intended to be passed down through the generations. To this day, we offer it at baby namings, brises, B’nai mitzvah, weddings, and other joyous occasions. Many Jewish parents say these words to their children each Friday evening, as they welcome Shabbat.
In part, the meaning of the benediction is what makes it so accessible. It is a blessing for prosperity, security, and spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Perhaps most of all, it is a blessing for peace in ourselves, our families, our country, and our world. It encapsulates so many of our wishes for our children and those whom we love. This Shabbat, it feels particularly appropriate.
I was touched by the words of blessing my father-in-law spoke that Friday, long ago. I was moved, nearly to tears, by how he said them. As he recited the words, I felt the power of a ritual that had been repeated every week throughout Josh’s life. Josh received them when the family was celebrating important milestones, and when they were mourning. Josh received them when he and his father were getting along, and when they were fighting. Josh received them during times of hardship and times of prosperity. No matter what was going on in their lives, and what was going on in our country, Josh knew he count on hearing words of blessing every Friday evening.
Rituals have the power to sustain us and uplift us. They can remind us of what is most important. Whether we recite the Priestly benediction over loved ones this evening or find another way to mark what is sacred in our lives, it is my prayer that we all be lifted by the power of our traditions.
Rabbi Cassi Kail