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blessings

Why are peace and favor such essential components of blessing?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The weekly Torah portion of “Nasso” (Numbers 4:21-7:89) is the longest reading in the Torah! It includes that famous “Birkat Kohanim” (Priestly blessing).

The Birkat Kohanim may very well be the sole remaining ritual that was performed by the Kohanim in the holy Temple and that is still performed today.

In Israel, it is generally performed daily or at least on Shabbat, while outside of Israel it is only performed on holidays, roughly five times a year, making it a very exciting event. In most orthodox homes, parents bestow this blessing on their children every Friday night.

Let’s take a look at the blessing: “God spoke to Moses saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel: say to them: “May God bless you and watch over you. May God cause His countenance to shine upon you and favor you. May God raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”

As the commentators explain, the formula includes blessings for everything good, including wealth, protection, Godly favor, and concluding with “peace.” Indeed, it is often overlooked that each of the three lines of the blessing contain a reference to God personally intervening in our lives and taking care of us, and we’re going to examine that.

Let’s first take a moment to ponder the final passage which includes the blessing of “peace”. What exactly does “peace” mean?

It is explained that a person can have all the best material luxuries and still not be happy. The finest food and drinks. A beautiful house. Amazing car. But what is it all worth if there is no peace?

Our sages teach us “No vessel can hold blessing like the vessel of peace”. Peace is the container that allows all other blessings to come together and be enjoyed. Peace, happiness, contentment is the greatest blessing of all. We see so often how a person can have very little and be so happy while those who have the luxuries really aren’t happy.

Closely related to this idea is another aspect of the blessing, in the second passage, “May God…favor you.” Noah had the blessing of “favor” as the verse says, “And Noah found favor in the eyes of God”.

It seems that this “favor” is not something that we generate on our own, but rather, it has to be God given. What is this blessing all about?

To help us understand, the sages explain this with the metaphor of a baby.

God instilled in humankind that we all find babies to be cute and lovable. It is not uncommon for an adult to want to hold or touch someone else’s baby. There is something in our DNA that attracts us to babies. Parents accept the fact and hardly complain that the arrival of a baby means lack of sleep and round-the-clock care. That is “favor”.

Your boss deciding to give you a raise — that too is favor. The clerk decides to offer more assistance that he is obligated to provide. That is favor. The bus stops to wait for you as you’re running to catch it. That is favor. Favor is a Godly blessing.

We all need the blessing of the baby. The blessing that others find us “cute” and “adorable.” The blessing that people want to help us without fear of owing them in return.

Although we are quick to jump and hope for the material blessings, we seem to forget that the spiritual blessings are often more important. Favor with God, peace, and, “May God watch over you.” Material without spiritual has little value and brings little pleasure.

So the next time we’re in the synagogue for the Birkat Kohanim, let’s make sure our thoughts are focused on everything the blessing has to offer and not just the latest cars, smartphones, and paychecks!