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Naso – The Power of Blessing

06/28/2024 02:26:26 PM


Rabbi Nat Ezray

Naso – The Power of Blessing

What is the greatest gift a parent can give their child?  The knowledge that they are loved.  And what is the greatest gift a child can give a parent?  The knowledge that they know they are loved.  I know that many of us finds ways to say, “I love you” to our children all of the time, but what if we had a ritual where that love was communicated regularly and consistently, one which reminded us what it is to love and be loved?

          We have such a ritual.  Every Friday night, it is the custom in Jewish homes for parents to bless their children.  We also do it here for every Bar and Bat Mitzvah and other moments in life. It is the most beautiful and meaningful ritual.  I love blessing my children and even though they might not admit it, they love being blessed.  If this is a custom you don’t yet do, I urge you to try it.  If it is something you do, explore ways to deepen the meaning.

          I have been giving a series of sermons about ritual. Ritual at its best creates moments to pause and focus.  We set aside the distractions of life and listen to the voices of our souls, connect to the past, feel awe, and explore meaning.

          Like all ritual, blessing our children links you to the past. That gives us roots and connection. These words, that we see in this morning’s Torah portion where the priests bless the people, have been said for over three thousand years. You link back and back and back.  In 1979, the archaeologist Gabriel Barkay was excavating just outside the walls of Jerusalem, at what is now St. Andrew’s Church.  A thirteen-year-old boy excavating with Barkay hit the floor and it caved in.  Beneath the floor was a hidden chamber with thousands of ancient artifacts, including two tiny silver scrolls no more than an inch long.  They were so fragile it took three years to work out a way to unroll them without causing them to disintegrate. What did they find? They found this blessing!  It dated back to the seventh century BCE, from the last days of the First Temple.  I’ve seen these scrolls in the Israel Museum and felt a profound connection to the past. It gives me the chills to say those same words.

          But it is more than the link to the past. Ritual done correctly challenges you to think about how to live sacred values every day. It helps me focus on what is important in life and challenge myself to make it real.  Let’s take a look at what the verses say: (Numbers 6:24 – 26)

Yevarechecha Adonai V’Yishmarecha

The Lord bless and protect you!

Ya’er Adonai Panav Elecha Vichunecha

The Lord shine his face toward you and deal kindly and graciously with you!

Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha, V’Yasem Lecha Shalom

The Lord lift his face toward you and grant you peace!

          The words are simple and powerful.  There is a rhythmic structure, three, then five, then seven words. In each clause, the second word is Adonai – God. In each verse God acts: God blesses. God makes God’s face shine. God turns God’s face toward.  Each verse ends with the effect of the blessing: protection, grace and peace.  As we think about what each of these things are, we encounter how we might be godly. We think about how to give these blessings to our children.  Ritual done right challenges us to make these blessing real; we interpret and personalize.

          Let’s go verse by verse:

Yevarechecha Adonai V’Yishmarecha – The Lord bless and protect you.  Now fill in the gaps. What does it mean for God to bless you?  From what do you need protection?  The questions are vague, because we have to provide the answers!  With what do I want to bless my children?  From what do I want to protect my children?  Look at the commentary at the bottom of the page: May “the Lord bless you” with material wealth” and “protect you” from losing that wealth for material blessings are vulnerable.  That one is nice. Or “may God protect you from being corrupted by the attainment of material blessing.”  If I am to personalize it, “May God protect you from thinking that material blessing is true blessing.”  Look at the next one: “May God bless you according to your needs.”  That is the blessing I want for my children.  May you find your blessing.  Now think about it with your own children.  Personalize it! May God bless you with…….knowing who you are and self-love; and protect you from harsh judgments of others who might diminish you, or from harsh self-judgment.  Do the exercise yourself:  May God bless you with…….And Protect you from…….  When I allow ritual to focus me on sacred values, my head and heart find connections that change me.

          The second verse travels inward; it is interpersonal.   Ya’er Adonai Panav Elecha Vichunecha – literally: May God’s face light up to you and grant grace to you!  In the first part of the clause we pray that they be seen, that God’s light fill them.  When I say these words I ask myself, “Am I truly seeing this child?”  “What might I be missing because of my judgments? The second part of the clause asks for chen – grace. What is grace?  Most associate it with receiving something that you may not deserve or expect. That is a fine blessing in and of itself.  But chen could also mean the ability to see someone’s essence, that which lies beneath the surface.  In the Joseph story, when he is in jail, the jailer saw Joseph’s chen – his essence.  What greater blessing to give to our children than to say “May I truly see you.” 

          The third blessing takes things even a little further.  The first part of the clause: Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha, literally means “May God lift God’s face to you.” When you lift your face to someone you see him, her or them an individual, unique and special.  There are seven billion people on earth, and God turns God’s face to each of us, caring about our unique configuration of hopes and fears, gifts and possibilities. You matter. We act godly when we lift our face and truly see.  And the second clause V’Yasem Lecha Shalom – May God grant you peace truly challenges us. How do we give ourselves and our children peace? Presence, Nature, Friendship, Quiet, Self-knowledge, Peace-making, Listening, Seeing,  Forgiving.  If we look at the commentary about this verse, we find that peace begins in the home, then extends to the community and finally to all the world.  When I engage in the ritual of blessing my children with peace, I ask the impossible yet oh so important question: “How can I find peace?  How can I help my children find peace?”

          Each clause and word of this blessing has the power to change me and my relationships.  Now let’s step back and think not about the specific words, but about the power of blessing someone in general.  Listen to this story from one of my favorite books: My Grandfather’s Blessings by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.  She did not grow up in an observant Jewish home, but her grandfather was observant and blessed her on Shabbat.  She writes: “After he lit the Shabbat candles, he would turn to her and say, ‘Come, Neshumelah’.  Then I would stand before him and he would rest his hands lightly on the top of my head.  He would begin by thanking God for me and for making him my grandpa.  He would specifically mention my struggles during that week and tell God something about me that was true….Those few moments were the only time in my week when I felt completely safe and at rest.  My family of physicians and professionals were always struggling to be more.  It was never enough. If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father would ask, ‘What happened to the other 2 points.’ But for my grandfather, I was already enough.  And somehow when I was with him, I knew with absolute certainty that this was so.  He called me by his special name, Neshumeleh, which means, ‘beloved little soul’.”

          This is ritual at its best.  It changes us.  It creates safety and love.  It reminds us of meaning and values. It challenges us, reminding us that too often we only see the missing two points.  It gives voice to love. Let’s bless each other all of the time.  It has the power to turn sparks of love and connection into flames.  So I end with blessing you:

Yevarechecha Adonai V’Yishmarecha

The Lord bless and protect you

Ya’er Adonai Panav Elecha Vichunecha

The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!

Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha, V’Yasem Lecha Shalom

The Lord bestow favor to you and grant you peace

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784