Parashat Naso – Erev Shabbat 22 May 2021
Week of 16-22 May 2021
Torah portion: Num. 4:21-7:89 Haftarah: Judg. 13:2-25
Theme: The Inner peace
This week’s parashah contains the Birkat Kohanim or “priestly blessing” (Num 6:22-27), which is used today in both Jewish and Christian worship. The origins of this blessing are quite ancient, going back to the time of the first Temple in Jerusalem. In 1979, two small silver scrolls dating back to the late 7th or early 6th century b.c.e. were discovered by archaeologists digging in Jerusalem. These scrolls were inscribed with a text that was almost identical to the Birkat Kohanim. There is a lack of certainty as to the function the scrolls performed, with some scholars believing that they may have served as protective amulets (Eskenazi, 829). What is known, however, is that this sacred text had a central place in Temple worship, with the Kohanim (priests) bestowing the blessing upon pilgrims during the great pilgrimage feasts. After the destruction of the Temple, the blessing continued to be recited in the synagogue and it is still used by parents to bless their children as part of the Sabbath ritual in the home. In some traditions the descendants of Israel’s priestly clan, the Kohanim, still recite the blessing in synagogues outside of Jerusalem on major festivals (Green, 81). It must be noted that although the blessing was recited by the Kohanim, it was in fact God who bestowed these blessings on those being blessed. This is made clear in verse 27: “they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I [YHWH] will bless them.”
The core of the Birkat Kohanim is found in verses 24 to 26, with each verse containing two blessings. The first is that YHWH will bless and protect the recipient of the blessing; the second that YHWH will deal kindly and graciously with them; and finally that YHWH bestow favour upon them and grant them shalom. If you have access to the Hebrew text, you will notice that each of these three verses contains three, five and seven words respectively. Seen from this perspective, it is possible to suggest that the sequence reveals something of the expansive nature of God’s blessing (Eskenazi, 829). Joan Chittister, offers the following thought about blessings: “[They] are the visible demonstration of faith in the goodness of the God whose blessings are often invisible…Blessing is a way of acknowledging that the God who created all things goes on lavishing us all our days.”
Further insight into the nature of God’s blessing in our lives can be found if we look at when and where this part of the Exodus narrative takes place. At this point in the story, the Children of Israel find themselves en-route from the land of Egypt to the Land of Promise. In word for Egypt in the biblical text is Mitsrayim, which can also mean “narrow or confined place”. This meaning is derived from the fact that Egypt was a long narrow land hemmed in by desert on either side of the fertile Nile valley. Therefore Mitsrayim can also represent those things which close us in, constrain, or limit us. Mitsrayim in a contemporary reading becomes the place from which we must all begin our “long trek to freedom” (Green, 227). Consequently, God’s blessing upon us and God’s presence in our lives expands our horizons, leading us to liberation and shalom. But what is shalom?
Arthur Green suggests that shalom is “Judaism’s highest aspiration for the world” and the “only vessel through which God’s blessing can flow into the world”. Further to this, he argues that shalom is needed not only by Earth’s human inhabitants, but by Earth itself and all creation. Moving our understanding of shalom to the more-than-human world, we might recover a “new/old dimension” of its meaning. Green notes that the greeting of shalom given on Shabbat actually recalls “a taste of Eden,” a time “before humans began to view nature as something to exploit. Bringing that original wholeness and harmony back into our relationship with our fellow creatures and environment,” he says, “is the ultimate meaning of shalom” (Green, 2012).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How might I be a blessing through the way I make God’s blessings visible in the world? How might I bring wholeness and harmony to my own life and to the lives of all? 2. Might shalom be the blessing that all creation most desperately needs today? Might this be the blessing that our generous and loving God, who desires shalom for all, is calling us give to one another and to the world?
Bibliography: Joan Chittister, OSB, The Monastic Way, Jan 2001; Eskenazi (Ed.), The Torah, A Woman’s Commentary (New York: 2008); Green, These Are the Words (Woodstock, Vermont: 2000, and Kindle version, 2012)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Mark David Walsh, Australia, Bat Kol Alumna/Alumnus: 2001,2002,2004