“Blessings as a Pipeline” by Lauren Shaps
Hey to the Chevra,
You might not think of it this way, but every one of us is in the business of blessings. We give them out, free of charge, all the time. A stranger sneezes and we pipe up with an automatic “Bless you.” Our co-worker calls in sick and we wish her a “speedy recovery.” Our friend has a date, an interview, is looking for a new house or car and we wish them well. “Good luck!” “Break a leg!” “Hope you find!” Probably the trendiest of blessings is “Have a nice day!” Do we make statements like these from force of habit? Are these remarks simply good manners? Or do these types of expressions contain some hidden power?
In this week’s parsha, Parashat Nasso, we see that the idea of giving blessings comes straight from the Torah. The Kohanim (Priests), are told to bless the Jewish people. And they are given the exact words to use.
Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons saying: So shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 6:22-26).
Based on these verses the Kohanim stand up at the end of synagogue services to bless the congregation. In most Sephardic congregations worldwide and Ashkenazi congregations in Israel the Kohanim recite these blessings every day, while in most Ashkenazi congregations in the Diaspora they are given only on holidays.
The Seforno (Rav Ovadia ben Jacob Seforno, Italy, 1475-1550, scholar, philosopher, physician) explains that the first blessing, “May Hashem bless you and safeguard you,” refers to wealth and property as well as protection from robbery. When our basic needs are not met or if we are worried that what we have may be stolen, then it is almost impossible to benefit from the more ephemeral gifts G-d sends our way.
Once those basic needs are looked after then we are receptive to the second blessing, “May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you.” The Seforno understands this to be the enlightenment that comes from recognizing the wisdom of the Torah and the ability to see G-d’s hand in our lives.
The final blessing, “May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you,” is the blessing that stabilizes all blessings as our Sages teach; “there is no vessel that can contain blessing like (the vessel) of peace.”
Our Rabbis understood that blessings are the pipeline through which G-d’s bounty flows. G-d can and does give so much to us without the need for an intermediary to dispense His blessings. But the unfortunate reality is that we rarely appreciate the immense goodness that fills our lives. The priestly blessing reminds us that all of this goodness has a Source. The Kohanim are the conduit and we are the receivers. Rather than think we are entitled to what comes our way, the priestly blessing gives us the opportunity to experience gratitude. We encounter a moment of mindfulness, a spark of spirituality. Most importantly we make the most of the opportunity to enhance our connection to the divine Source of the abundance that we receive so much of the time.
As we go about our day, we interact with people who have needs that are not within our control to fulfill. Yet to be completely unresponsive to those needs would be callous and insensitive. What can we give them? We learn from the Kohanim that, at the very least, we can give them a blessing. We wish them a safe trip, a complete recovery, to find what they are looking for. We may not have the ability to guide their way or change their circumstances, but anything and everything can be done by the Almighty.
If we believe that our words are more than good manners, that G-d can choose to fulfill our good wishes, then our blessings are truly a gift. We will have given them something real and, in return, received the warmth of the connection that will now exist between us and them. Wrapped up in a simple blessing is the opportunity to emulate G-d, to mirror the Kohanim, to be part of the pipeline of flow from Above to below. All of that can be done without lights, sound or action, no bells or whistles needed; simply the heartfelt expression of caring, concern and blessing.