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Friday, May 21, 2010

Comentary on Parshat Naso and the Priestly Blessings

(Be'midbar/Numbers 4:21-7:89)

In the parashah, God commands Aaron and his sons to bless the people with the words that have become so familiar to us, "May God Bless you and keep you; May God's face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; May God lift up the Divine face towards you and grant you Shalom/Peace."

Until this day, in more traditional communities, the Kohanim - those believed to be descended from Aaron - stand in front of the congregation and offer this blessing in the same way we believe the ancient Kohanim did.  They spread their hands out in front of them, palms facing down, and their fingers separated in the special manner reserved for the priests (though more familiar to many of us
as Spock's "live long and prosper" sign on Star Trek, which Leonard Nimoy borrowed from his Jewish heritage). Then they recite the blessing for all the "non-Kohanim" present.  This ceremony has been viewed throughout the centuries as mysterious and awe-inspiring.  However, it is also clearly hierarchical. The priests are "above" the people, literally and figuratively, and act as conduits for blessing between God and the people.

In his commentary on the priestly blessings, R. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev cites a short drash, or homily, attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, 18th century founder of Hasidism.  The B'esht (acronym for Baal Shem Tov) cites Psalm 121:5, "The Eternal is your shadow." He then states, "Just as a shadow does everything that a person does, so the Creator, blessed be God, does, so to speak, everything that a person does." Levi Yitzhak then adds to this the reminder that we should always act in such a way that God would be proud of us. In other words, God should not be embarrassed to be our "shadow." Then, in commenting on the way in which the blessing is given, Levi Yitzhak continues, "...when one prays only for oneself, one is only a receptacle; that is, one's hands are spread out with the palms up and the back of the hands down. But, when one prays only to give God pleasure, then one is as one who pours blessing; that is, one's hands are spread out with the palms down and the back of the hand up (see description above)."

In his modern commentary on this interpretation, R. David Blumenthal writes that Levi Yitzhak's three main points are, "...that true blessing is a pouring-forth of an energy we receive, a channeling of divine power; that this type of blessing gives God pleasure, it makes God proud; and that such an act evokes a shadow movement by God, a parallel response of poured-forth blessing from God."
("God at the Center," Harper and Row, 1988; p. 110).

How awesome - and how frightening - that human beings can be part of this channeling process. Through our own actions, we cannot merely receive blessings from God, but we can bring God's blessing to others. Beyond that, if we believe, as do the mystics, that our actions actually affect God in this divine-human "shadow play" what an awesome responsibility each of us is given.

If we are to be a nation of priest/Kohanim, as the Torah teaches, then I believe the lesson found in this week's parashah also applies to each one of us.  Keeping that thought, and the previous commentaries, in mind I would like to offer you my own interpretation of this passage as a blessing for all of us on this eve of the Shabbat of Parshat Naso (Numbers/Be’midbar 4:21-7:89) where the Priestly Blessing is found.

Shadowplay and Blessing

stand here
        arms and hands outstretched
     uttering ancient words

feel the blessing
   divine energy
      flow through me
          to you
             to me
                to God
           a circuit

as it flows
through me
I hear the voice
   in my soul
constant energy
  long after hands descend
I feel blessing
  source of life
    source of action
        source of love

it   does not pull
it  animates

I do not want
to follow the voice
   do as it says

in this moment
   I have power
what I do
   God must do
shadow puppeteer
peter pan
with a shadow
 that cannot be lost
    cannot be separated

God is always
  within me
I am always

such power
am I worthy
is anyone

cannot move
cannot act
cannot risk
what if
make the wrong move
     pull the wrong strings

  I want to be
not puppeteer
  I want to be
   the shadow
 not it's source

I breathe
I sit
I wait
afraid now
if I act
I may be wrong
God must still follow
but the chain
of blessing
may be broken
all my fault

I breathe
I sit
I wait
I pray

I listen

the voice
within around
guiding me

I feel the power
but now
  I realize
    I know
     in my soul
       it is not mine
         it is not

I am still
must act
the alternative
is to die
   to block the flow
    of divine blessing

before I act
        I pray
     allow the blessing
   the energy
to flow through me
may I
may we
be worthy
may I bring your blessing
     to all
may I bring their blessing
     to you
may they bring blessing
     to me
       to you
         as well
    may we bring
to God
to all
through our actions

as I pray
    I hear
the voice of Sinai
in my heart
    I feel
the power of sinai
in my soul
    I see
the shadow of sinai
brightly hovering over me
    I know
the One of Sinai
           is here
   us all
      moving with us
we are not separate
      we are
always together
always complete
always whole

we are
the blessing
the blessed
with  in

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