Naso 5773 – Gilayon #799
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May the lord bless you and guard you.
May the lord light up his face to you and grant grace
May the lord lift up his face to you and give you
b. Halafta said: The Holy One, blessed be He, found
no vessel that could contain blessing for
written: 'The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His
people with peace'.
(Mishnah, Uktsin 3,
said in the name of R. Hanina: The disciples of the
wise increase peace in the world, as it says, And all
thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy
children. Read not banayik [thy children] but bonayik[thy builders]. Great peace have they that love Thy
law, and there is no stumbling for them. Peace be
within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and
companions' sake I will now say, Peace be within thee.
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good. The Lord will give strength unto His people, the Lord will bless His people with peace.
There are some who think that
world peace will be built only through a single hue of opinions and characteristics,
and therefore when we see scholars investigating wisdom and the Torah view, and
the research leads to multiple views and methods, they think that this causes
arguments and is the antithesis of peace. The truth, however, is different. True
peace cannot ever be achieved unless it is through the multiplicity of
peace. The multiplicity of peace is that all views and methods should be
considered, and that it will become evident how each has its place, each
according to its value, its place and its subject.
(From: HaRav Avrahm
Yitzchak Hacohen Kook zt"l:
Olat Reiyah, p. 330)
Thus shall you bless the children of
On the priestly benediction and the parental blessing
In memory of my
father and teacher,
passed away in ripe old age on the 8th of Sivan, 5772,
from whom I was privileged to receive the
Benediction every Shabbat for almost 101 years.
Our parasha contains many mitzvoth related to the
procedures, but only the mitzvah of Birchat
Kohanim – the Priestly Benediction – has
continued until this day to be part of the daily religious reality of the Holy
Service. Even though we have no authentically certified kohanim,
this function of blessing
is performed in the synagogue by Jews who have a presumption (hazakah) of priesthood. Similarly, in later
generations, the Priestly Benediction has found its way into the Jewish home as
part of the "Blessing of the Children". This custom of the father,
and often the mother, blessing their children upon returning from the synagogue
on Sabbath Eve, is spreading, both among Sephardim and Ashkenazim. (In some Ashkenazi
is done also on Shabbat morning and Motsei Shabbat).
with the details of the blessing, attention must be given to its essence. Nehama Leibowitz raises the
question raised by many commentators before her – Why is this mitzvah
assigned to the priests: "So shall you bless"
(6:23) – after all, the source of the blessing is the Holy One, blessed
be He, as is clearly stated in the text: "May the Lord bless you" (Ibid, 24) "And I shall bless them" (Ibid., 27). She quotes, among others, Don
Yitzchak Abarbanel. In answer to the question, he
distinguishes between three categories of blessings: 1. The
blessing with which God blesses Man: "This is the giving and the goodness,
as in 'And the Lord blessed Avraham'" (Bereishit 24:1). 2.
The blessing with which Man blesses the Holy One: "And this is
glorification and praise, as in 'David blessed the Lord'". 3. The
blessing with which one Man blesses another: "This is a prayer and request
for mercy upon the recipient, that the Holy One shower upon him of His
blessing. And this is what is referred to here: 'Speak unto Aharon
and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the Children of
Moshe Alshech adds a psychological aspect, pointing
out that a function of the priests is to prepare the hearts of the Children of
Israel for receiving the blessing, i.e., to prepare them spiritually and
psychologically for the true giving, that of the Holy One. Nechama
Leibowitz sums up the subject with an important
twofold message: "Whoever considers the priests to be persons with
independent power to benefit or hurt him, sees the blessing as a magical
instrument, and he has no place in the Torah of Israel […] but he who
disparages the Priestly Benediction and claims that he has no need for it – has
disparaged one of the Torah's commandments." As one educated in Western values,
who sees in rationalism a supreme principle, I have no problem accepting Nechama Leibowitz's first message
– we should not rush to spiritual leaders in anticipation of receiving answers
to our needs. God has the answers. In Yeshaayahu Leibowitz's sharp idiom: "One who attributes to the
blessing of the tsaddik or the sage power and
influence, is suspect of having a point of view which smells of magic and
idolatry […] It is not within the power of any man, even a priest, to bring
blessings upon another. The priest is a representative appointed to pray that
However, Nechama Leibowitz's
message has another part, one that adds a modicum of complexity to the matter.
In her view, the second extreme view, in which we depend solely on our ratio,
is no less problematic. Sometimes we need the mediation of a spiritual
personality to help us open up spiritually and psychologically, and to prepare
our hearts for receiving the blessing of the Lord, and this is not to be taken
Benediction is composed of three parts, and the Sages point out that the
blessing increases in importance and in the degree of goodness which will be
showered upon the blessed. This is reflected in both content and in form
(increasing number of words). Some exegetes claim that the recipient of the
blessing also bears a certain responsibility for ensuring the efficacy of the
blessing. So may we conclude from the comments of the Netziv,
head of the Volozhin yeshiva and author of the "Haemek Davar" commentary, on
the first blessing: "May the Lord bless you and guard you" (6:24): " "Bless you":
This applies to every man, each receiving his appropriate blessing … the
student of Torah – in his study, to the merchant – in his business. "And
guard you": For every blessing requires vigilance lest, forefend, it
become a hindrance, the Torah scholar requires safeguarding from pride and desecration
of the Name, etc., and its simplest sense – that it not be forgotten. An owner
of possessions requires safeguarding lest his wealth become a detriment, as in
the cases of Korach and Navoth
the Yisraelite, etc. And in its
simplest sense, safekeeping from theft and loss". The Netziv cautions us against pride and acquisi-tiveness
and sends here a clear moral message – in every blessing there is a hidden
danger – that it is liable to led to superciliousness to the point of disbelief
in the Almighty and abuse of people, and therefore the recipient of the
blessing is in need of special guarding.
face is mentioned in the second and third benedictions: "May the Lord
light up his face to you" and "May the Lord lift up his face to you".
Our Sages explained the terms "Lighting up the face" and "Lifting
the face" of the Lord in various ways. King Solomon had long ago noted
that man expresses the thoughts of his heart through his facial expressions,
and that in every interpersonal relationship there is a great degree of mutuality
– a person reacts to the other according to what he absorbs from him: "As
face answers to face in water, so does one man's heart to another" (Proverbs 27:19). In other words, the
attitude of another to ourselves may be a reflection
of our attitude to him. Studies in developmental psychology show that if
the mother keeps a straight face and does not smile in reaction to her baby's
smile, after a certain period of time the baby will enter a condition of
emotional disconnection and apathy. To return to the Priestly Benediction, we
can read in the verses the message of mutuality; the recipients also bear responsibility
for what is taking place. In order to merit the blessing of the Holy One,
blessed be He, "lighting up His face" and "lifting His face",
we have to light up our faces in the Torah and lift our faces to peace.
And now to the "Blessing of the Children". R. Yissachar Yaakobson, in his book:
'Netiv Binah' (1978), reviews the origins of the custom, from
its beginning in the 17th century until our times. The custom is
first mentioned in the volume "Maavar Yabok" by R. Aharon Berchia Modena (d.1639),
an Italian mystic. Alongside Kabalistic reasons we detect again the element of
mutuality. Both sides 'win' – he who blesses and he who is blessed:
And by laying
the hand on the little head he is blessed, as is written (Bereishit 48:14) "…
stretched out his hand" and it says (Ibid
20) "and he blessed them on that day, saying…" the hands
hinting at the blessing because the human hand contains 15 components, equal to
the 15 words of "May the Lord bless you etc'". This is to say, may
the blessings of these three verses lie upon your head, and the custom to bless
on the holy Shabbat, especially on Shabbat eve, is a secret of the Sabbath
Queen… and in the secret of the neshamah yeteira – the additional soul – that the
blessings fall upon the one who blesses and the one who is blessed, and yet
more, because there are no Satan and scourge on Shabbat to contest the blessing
…and it is a supreme need to bless the children on Shabbat, and if he has a
daughter, she too is included in the blessing, especially on Shabbat eve. And
the wise person will understand on his own that our
words carry truth.
In the siddur of R. Yaakov b. Zvi
Emden (1698-1776) an additional reason,
also Kabalistic, is cited; on the Shabbat eve "the sheafa
[emanation of spiritual abundance] comes down" and the conduits of
blessings open up, and through the young children in particular, who have not
tasted the taste of sin, the sheafa will
spread yet more.
In the "Sefer HaHayyim", composed by
the brother of the MaHaRaL of Prague, another reason,
one belonging to the category of "revealed knowledge", is given: On
weekdays, the father, out of anger, is liable to curse his children, therefore
he hastens to bless them on the Shabbat, when all are relaxed and happy, so
that the blessing will cancel out the curses, as is written "And the Lord
changed the curse into a blessing."
It seems that
today, in many homes, the parental blessing constitutes a moment of closeness
and of tightening the connection between parents and children made possible by
the gathering of the family in the home. In the words of Dr. Wehrman in his book "Haggei Yisrael U'Moadim" [Festivals
of Israel and Days of Appointment]: "The custom of blessing the children
seems to be based upon the idea of 'a rest of peace and tranquility' which is
supposed to permeate the Jewish home on Shabbat. Peace and tranquility between
husband and wife and between parents and children." A study of the source
reveals that from its inception in some communities the custom applied also to
mothers and daughters. For example, in R. Emden's siddur
it is written: "My teacher used to kiss his mother's hands on Shabbat Eve …in
order to prepare her for the emanation of blessings from her hands." And
in our generation, R. Yaakobson notes: "This custom
is highly appropriate for renewal, not because of the Kabalistic reasons which
are unintelligible to the ordinary Jew, but in order to honor–especially on
the beginning of the Shabbat– the mother, who bears the responsibility of all
the Shabbat preparations."
R. Yaakobson concludes with the following: "This
beautiful custom has not yet spread to all the Jewish communities, but the Jews
of Germany were most meticulous in its observance." As a daughter of Orthodox
German extraction, I was privileged to receive blessings on Shabbat Eve and on Motsei Shabbat from both parents, and I have been
privileged to pass on this custom to the next generation.
Chana Manne a clinical psychologist, is Head Psychologist in
in Safed, and lives in Kiryat
They shall carry it on their shoulders – Man and State
The relationship between the political and social
organization (the state) and the individual in the state is the greatest and
most encompassing and deep relationship vis-à-vis the significant
elements of human existence; it is as also possible to speak of the
relationship between state and society.
The state, social organization, and everything connected
with them – from the struggle for positions of power to politics in its broader
sense as discussed by political thinkers from ancient times until the present –
the significance of this entire great subject, with all its complications
and complexity is entirely instrumental.
The state is nothing but a tool and means for the
accomplishment of valuable goals involving the fulfillment of basic human needs
such as justice, education, health, culture, worship of God, etc. No instrumental
mechanism can achieve these goals. The state is important only in that it
allows the individual who is obliged to realize values to realize them. The
state itself should never be required or expected to realize values.
Similarly, regarding the holy service of the Tabernacle we
read, They shall carry
it on their shoulders. Man bears his obligations upon his shoulders in
two senses, and he must make great efforts to fulfill them. The vessels and
devices such as the "wagons" and the "cattle" only carry
the strips of cloth, screens, panels, stakes, sockets, bars, columns, and so
forth which are in no way part of the holy service. These merely create the
framework upon which the holy service depends. That service can only take place
when there are human beings who are prepared to trouble themselves to freely
take upon themselves the serious normative proviso of They shall
carry it on their shoulders.
All over the world people misunderstand the relationship
between the instruments and values. Blindness to this relationship is beginning
to take hold upon us as well. It is moving us towards a nationalistic-fascistic
mood in the social, political, and national realms, in which collective
existence becomes an end in itself.
This matter finds symbolic expression in the Tabernacle
service: the Tabernacle's holiness is symbolically represented by the vessels
kept in the Tabernacle, such as the
the table, the menorah, and the two altars. These items were not moved in
wagons or even carried by draft-animals, rather They
shall carry it on their shoulders.
That is the metaphor – what does it represent? It says that
instruments such as political sovereignty, sovereign power, social mechanisms,
etc. are incapable of realizing the values of human existence. These values can
only be accomplished by man himself; they are not problems relating to the form
of social existence, rather they are the problems of man in society.
(Y. Leibowitz, Sheva Shanim shel Sihot al Parashat HaShavua pp.
In the Shabbat Shalom issue for Parashat Emor, the passage "If
your enemy falls, do not exult" (Proverbs
24:17) is presented as deploring joy at the fall of our enemy. [The
reader is referring to the selection from Rav Soleveitchik's essay quoted in "Sod HaYachid V'HaYachad"] This
interpretation is not viable because the following verse expresses fear lest
the Holy One, blessed be He, "avert His wrath from him" – indicating
that the enemy is still alive. We are fortunate to have access to the Keter Aram Tsovah. In the Keter, the verse under discussion is part of a quartet of
verses with strong thematic connections that clarify the meaning of the verse. "Wicked man! Do not lurk by the home of the righteous
man, do no violence to his dwelling," an appeal to the wicked man not to
attack the righteous man. "Seven times the righteous man falls and gets
up, while the wicked are tripped by one misfortune." – because
(an explanation from the wicked man's perspective why he should not attack) the
righteous man recovers from repeated missteps, whereas as single misstep of the
wicked will end badly. (Therefore, you, the wicked man) "If your enemy
(the righteous man) falls, do not exult; if he trips let your heart not
rejoice, lest (a negative development from the wicked man's perspective) the
Lord see (that the righteous is in trouble) and be displeased, and He will avert
his wrath from him (from the righteous)".
In the following unit it says "The
lamp of the wicked goes out", and further on there is an appeal not relate
to the wicked as to the righteous. Shmuel HaKatan lived during the period of the destruction of the
reasonable to assume that he quotes the passage "If your enemy falls"
in order to encourage the nation in the face of the Romans and the heretics who
rejoiced over the falling of Bat-Zion. Perhaps the choice of this great Torah
scholar to compose the benediction against the heretics derived from an
attitude of deep respect for the composition of prayers throughout the
generations. Compare this to the composition of prayers in our day: The Prayer
for [Living] Parents during Yizkor, prayers for the
Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the prayer of the parachutist. Perhaps Shmuel
HaKattan was chosen because he radiated faith that
not we, but our enemies, the heretics, shall fall.
Respectfully, Gideon Ehrlich
Leiser, editor of "Shabbat Shalom"
Many thanks to
Mr. Erlich for his letter. It seems to me
difficult, however, to maintain that understanding "If your enemy exults,
let your heart not rejoice" as disapproval of exultation over the death of
our enemies is untenable. Mr. Erlich's interpretation
contradicts all other Bible exegeses, and therefore his argument seems somewhat
pretentious. Yet more: were we to accept his interpretation to be possible, it
would be yet more difficult to argue that bringing this verse as the central
statement of Shmuel HaKatan
in Pirke Avot is directed
towards the Romans and the heretics in an effort to encourage the people; it
does not seems feasible to assume that the Sages composed Tractate Avot as an ethical code for the Romans!
understanding of the discussion in Berachot seems to
me to be a more reasonable one:
There were great Torah scholars in the Raban Gamiliel's generation other
than Shmuel HaKattan. It
would seem, then, that Rabin Gamliel's choice of Shmuel HaKattan was based on his character
rather than on his scholarship.
The continuation of the story relates
that Shmuel HaKattan had a problem
with the benediction which he had composed; when he served as cantor "a
later year", he forgot the benediction.
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