9 Sivan 5773 / May 17-18, 2013
In this week’s portion, Naso, we find the language Aaron was instructed to use when blessing the Israelite nation:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May God bless you and guard you;
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May God make God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May God lift up God’s face unto you, and give you peace.
We find this blessing still being used regularly today. For example, this is the blessing traditionally offered by parents to their children at the Shabbat dinner table on Friday nights. It is often recited for a bride right before her wedding, and sometimes under the chupah as well for both bride and groom. It is part of the standard repetition to the Amidah, and thus for many years has been recited (or at least heard) by observant Jews on a daily basis.
Is the blessing one that is familiar to you?
If not, what are your initial reactions to it?
If so, does it hold any meaning or power?
Perhaps the power of the blessing comes less from the words themselves, and more from the fact that we know Jews have been offering this blessing to one another for over 2,500 years? For me, knowing that the words being offered are the same as those my ancient ancestors used and received is quite moving, even if theologically I’m not quite sure that those are the words I’d come up with if tasked with crafting a blessing to offer to my children in the future.
What is the value of offering a blessing today? Do we believe that blessings really contain any sort of power?
On a metaphysical level, many would argue that a blessing is a form of putting positive energy out into the universe.
On a more practical level, I know that before I proposed to my fiancée, I made sure to ask her parents for their blessing…
If asked to compose the words that you would use to bless your children, what would they be and why?
How do they compare to the blessing we’ve inherited from our ancestors?
This Shabbat, reflect on the power of blessings – both in form and function. Be in awe of just how far back in history some of our blessings go. Resolve to explore meaningful ways to incorporate and when necessary, to create, blessings that speak to you today.