Once, when I was a rabbinical student in New York City, walking out of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion onto West Fourth Street, a couple of lost tourists stopped me and inquired about the location. You see, the outside of our building featured a large metal sculpture of a menorah and they assumed it was indeed Jewish. “Yes, it’s a rabbinical college,” I answered. “Are you a rabbinic student?” they asked. “Yes.” I replied. “Will you bless us?” they sheepishly asked.
Now, this was years before I was to be ordained, and it was indeed one of the first times I had been asked to bless anyone. But without thinking, I placed my hands on their shoulders and recited the blessing found in this week’s Torah portion, Nasso, known as the Priestly Benediction:
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
May God bless you and keep you!
יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃
May the light of God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you!
יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃
May God lift up God’s face to you, and grant you peace!
It’s a universal blessing-- one that can be used in many occasions. I’m so glad I used it in that instance. And, in fact, we do recite it on Shabbat, and at b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, at baby namings and even, sometimes, at weddings. We ask for God’s blessings, protection, kindness, and peace. May we all bless one another with this blessing at all times.
But there is another teaching I learned about this blessing that bears sharing. If we consider the placement of God and us on a vertical plane, relative to this blessing we would see:
-in the first line, God is above us granting blessing and protection down toward us who are lower than God, relatively speaking.
-in the second line, we see that we, and God, are face to face, on the same level. And finally,
-in the third line, we see that God is lower than us as God lifts up God’s face up to us who are on a higher level.
This is a blessing about granting us protection and wellness in whatever station of life we find ourselves in—whether we are feeling lowly, copacetic, or confident. In every station of life, we need God’s blessing. And whatever station of life we find ourselves in, this blessing assures us that God is there with blessings.
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.