The Priestly Benediction

Those who link themselves with God and the people of Israel will indeed be blessed.

Commentary on Parashat Nasso, Numbers 4:21 - 7:89

Among the many salient elements in this week’s Torah reading is the priestly benediction at the end of chapter six of the book of Numbers. Three of these verses have been woven into various aspects of Jewish ritual and liturgy.

May God bless you and keep you
May God cause the divine light to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May God turn toward you, and grant you peace
(Numbers 6: 24-26).

This passage has become a part of the spiritual life of the Jewish people, recited at Shabbat, during the holidays, and at life-cycle events. As important as this priestly blessing has become, however, the entire piece deserves our attention.

First comes the divine imprimatur: “God spoke to Moses” (6:22). Though some might quibble about the origin of the Torah text, the author wants to make sure that the Source of what follows is perfectly clear. God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons (that is, the priests), in whose hands are the future of the Jewish people, since the priests control the sacrificial cult.

It is common to read the text as simply providing the words for Aaron and his sons when they say a blessing over the people–which is how this text became known as the priestly benediction.

Blessing as Reward

But if you understand the word “bless” as “reward,” a quite acceptable translation, Aaron’s words of blessing then become an explanation to the people, perhaps even an incentive, as to how God is to reward the people. “God will bless you and protect you. God will deal kindly and graciously with you. God will bestow favor on you and grant you peace.”

As in Parashat Behar, God implies that there will be material rewards that come with living a spiritual and morally upstanding life.

That segment of the portion stands as the most important element of all, the part that is not included either in Friday night table rituals nor in the priestly blessing that is offered during the Amidah (the core prayer in each worship service around which the rest of the liturgy is built).

By reading the text in this manner, we can hear a message stating that those who link themselves with God–and the people of Israel–will indeed be blessed. And we will be further blessed for them having joined us.

They will be blessed for linking themselves with God and with us and we will be blessed as well. That is our reward for including them. What better message of inclusion can there be?

Provided by Big Tent Judaism, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism.


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