(Courtesy: Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara )
by: Jonah Geffen
If there is one thing I find most beautiful about Jewish life, it is the importance we place on recognizing the awesomeness of the ordinary. Even a cursory glance into a siddur informs us that we have blessings for everything. Our tradition recognizes the diversity of natural wonder, and provides ways for us to express our awe at the splendor of nature, for the wondrous elements of existence. We bless natural wonders, wisdom, food and drink, for they provide us with evidence of Hashem’s reality in our lives. We are affected by what we see around us, and these blessings are our means to try to express that sense of wonder that comes with the realization that we have just witnessed something that, no matter how mundane, is in fact miraculous. At least, this is the intent of those blessings. But reality can be quite different.
Life, as we all know, does not always feel like a blessing. Sometimes it is quite difficult to appreciate small miracles. Today, many of us find ourselves faced with challenges that we could not have imagined even one year ago, and in the face of these new and daunting challenges it becomes harder and harder to recognize our blessings. How can we know we are blessed, when we seemingly have little or no proof? And if we are not feeling blessed, how could we muster up the proper intention to bless Hashem for the myriad of bless-able occasions noted in our prayer books?
Parashat Naso shows us that Hashem truly understands this aspect of human reality. After addressing the lows (the loss of trust, jealousy, vengeance and punishment addressed in the sotah ritual) and the highs (the Nazir’s life of piety and dedication to Hashem and all humanity) of human existence, the Parashah is interrupted by Hashem instructing the priests how to bless the people. Fifteen short words are provided through which we are given the ability to constantly remind one another, and ourselves that Hashem is conscious of our existence, and that we are truly blessed.
May Hashem bless you and protect you
May Hashem’s face shine on you and show you favor
May Hashem lift Hashem’s face to you and give you peace
The fundamental working element of this blessing is that it is to be given by people to people. It is Hashem’s blessing, but we are responsible for giving it, we are responsible for delivering its power.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev noted this, pointing out that “just as one’s shadow mimics the person’s actions, so to with Hashem, who does what people do.” This is why the Priestly Blessing is so focused on the ‘face’ of the divine being the deliverer of peace and protection; it is a wish that can be expressed by the very person who speaks the words. In difficult times, we find comfort and strength in each other’s faces as much as in our faith; the two go hand in hand. Our Parashah this week teaches us that if our faces shine upon the recipient of our blessing, so to will the face of Hashem.
Jonah Geffen is a 2nd year Rabbinical Student at The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he holds a MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University and is the Project Specialist in Coexistence Education for Kivunim.