Parashat Nasso – Erev Shabbat 3 June 2022
Week of 29 May – 4 June
Torah portion: Numbers 4 :21-7 :89 Haftarah: Judg. 13 :2-25Theme: The Lord’s blessings
The three-part benediction from the Bible (Numbers 6:24-26) has been said since Biblical times. It is called the ‘Priestly Blessing’ (Birkat Kohanim in Hebrew) as in ancient times, the priests (kohanim) blessed the people with this blessing daily in the holy temple. Today, it is recited in some synagogues while standing, in the reader’s repetition of the Amidah during Shaharit (Morning Prayer) and most commonly during the Musaf prayer, the additional holiday service after the Torah reading.
The term ‘Priestly Blessing’ may be misleading as the blessings do not come from the priests. There is a three-time naming of “The LORD” and after the third blessing, it is clearly stated that it is God who gives the blessing with the LORD saying, “I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27) The priest, no matter how holy, is only a channel of the blessings from God to the people. Moreover, God is the doer of the six actions stated in the blessing: Bless and protect, shine and be gracious and bestow and grant peace. The use of word “and” may indicate a consequence. That is, blessing results in protection; God’s shining face results in grace; and the giving of God’s favor results in peace.
According to Rashi, to bless, means to bless with possessions. Generally, in the Bible, God’s blessings are not abstract but consist mainly of material bounty to include wealth and possessions (Gen. 24:35), land (Gen. 35:12), and fertility, health and victory (Deut. 7:12-16). ‘To protect’ means to keep safe from “evil spirits” (Ps 9:11) and from all evils (Ps 121). It can be said then that the first blessing says: God grants everything good and protects from all evil.
The second blessing, according to Rashi, means that people will look favorably on you. For Ibn Ezra, it means whatever you ask for, and whenever you ask for it, God will grant your request.
The third blessing, which literally according to Rashi says God “lifts his countenance” towards you, means that God has overcome his anger to grant peace (shalom). The Hebrew word shalom means in its negative sense freedom from all disasters (Lev. 26:6; Job 21:9). But in its broad meaning, it includes the positive blessings of prosperity (Deut. 23:7; Prov. 3:2), good health (Ps. 38:4), friendship (Jer. 20:10. 38:22) and peace of mind. It has been noted that the first and last lines (in the Hebrew) both have seven syllables, forming an envelope and summary that says: “The Lord bless you . . . and grant you peace.”
According to My Jewish Learning, in many Reform and Conservative synagogues, the ritual for the ‘Priestly Blessing’ is no longer performed. It has come to pass that each one can say blessings from God for others?
Catholics enjoy a version of the priestly blessing to receive God’s abundant love and mercy at the end of a mass. As we stand and bow our heads, we receive the blessing from the Lord through the presiding priest as he says: “May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Like the Jews, we are blessed to have a loving and generous God.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What, for you, has been the best blessing you have received from God? 2. What are the blessings you hope to receive or share with others?
Bibliography: The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (New York, 1989); Carasik (ed), The Commentators’ Bible: Numbers (Philadelphia, 2011); https://myjewishlearning.com
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat kol Alumna July 2014