The message is clear: A person must not abuse, misuse, or flaunt his material wealth – it must only be used in the service of God for positive and charitable purposes.
This week’s Torah portion is Nasso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89). There are three primary themes in Nasso: The Priestly Blessing, the Sotah (suspected adulteress) and the laws of the Nazirite. In today’s Torah column, we will discuss the Priestly Blessing.
The Kohanim (Priest’) are required to bless the nation at least once daily. On some occasions the blessing would be pronounced two or three times on a single day as well. For various reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay, the Priestly Blessing is only performed daily in parts of Israel, while in the rest of the world it is performed only on holidays. Many Sephardic congregations in the Diaspora perform it on Shabbat too.
The text of the three-verse blessing is as follows: “May the Lord bless you and safeguard you – May the Lord’s Face shine upon you and be gracious to you – May the Lord lift his face towards you and show you peace”.
The commentators dissect the wording of this blessing and ask a number of questions. One is as follows. The first verse of the blessing seems redundant: “May the Lord bless you and safeguard you.” If God “blesses” us, why do we need Him to “safeguard” us? Doesn’t the former include the latter?
Among the many answers to the question is that the first segment – “May the Lord Bless you” (Yevarechecha Hashem) refers to material wealth while the second part, “May the Lord Safeguard you (V’yishmerecha) refers to God “safeguarding” us that we don’t misuse our wealth. The message is clear: A person must not abuse, misuse or flaunt his material wealth – it must only be used in the service of God for positive and charitable purposes. One must always be grateful and humble, and use it wisely.
Also of significance regarding the Priestly Blessing is that it is the only synagogue prayer that is recited while facing the congregation! As readers might already know – all major prayers recited in the synagogue are recited facing the Holy Ark, which is positioned in a manner so that one is facing Jerusalem when he prays. In this case, however, the Kohanim face the congregation. Is the Priestly blessing not directed towards God just like all other prayers? Why the difference?
Here, too, among the many answer, is that it is obvious that God wants to bless the people! What father does not want his children to be blessed? Hence the Priestly Blessing is not subject to the formality of having to face the Holy Ark. Since it is obvious that God wants us blessed, the priests face the congregation, and by doing so we are reminded that they are God’s emissaries to bless us. And together – with the knowledge of what the Kohanim are doing up there on the elevated platform, and knowing that God is “behind them” – may we truly appreciate all that He gives us…and may we use it wisely.