By Rabbi Aron Tendler
"When the Kohain loses his identity beneath the veil of his Tallis, he
symbolizes our potential for total subjugation to the sovereignty of Hashem."
Parshas Naso is the second Parsha devoted to what should have been the Bnai
Yisroel's final preparation to enter into Eretz Yisroel. The Parsha began
with the travel assignments to the Levite families of Gershon and Mirrari.
It then specified three types of Tumah - impurity which restricted the
affected persons contact with either: the Kohanim, the Leviyim, or all of
society. The Parsha then discussed the laws of Gezel Hager - stealing from
a convert (making restitution if someone steals from a convert who then
dies without any heirs); the laws of Sotah - the accused adulteress; and
the laws of the Nazir. Aharon and his sons were commanded to bless the
nation, and the remainder of the Parsha lists the Korbonos offered by the
12 Princes (heads of the Tribes) at the time of the Mizbeach's inauguration.
Although it is important to understand why these laws, along with the
Priestly Blessing and the princely offerings, are included in the Bnai
Yisroel's final preparation to enter the land; I will primarily focus on
the importance of the Priestly Blessing.
The mission of the Jew is to become a "kingdom of priests and a holy
nation", and model for the rest of the world the integration of G-d into
daily life of a nation. Shevet Layvie was selected to model for the rest of
the Jews the integration of G-d into daily life of a tribe. The Kohanim
were selected to model for the rest of the Jews the integration of G-d into
the daily life of the individual. The organization of the nation into three
concentric groups of role models indicates that the integration of G-d into
life is natural and possible for all people and nations. However, it
requires experienced teachers who will show us and and them how to properly
do it. The most comprehensive example of the integration of G-d into daily
living is the Kohain. They are expected to develop their natural capacity
for integrating G-d, to the degree that they are comfortable spending time
in His home.
The process that developed this natural capacity involved being raised from
an early age to "live with Hahsem." Once accomplished, the Kohain would
assume his rightful place among the workers in the Bais Hamikdash. In
addition to learning the laws related to being a Kohain and working in the
Bais Hamikdash, the Kohain was immersed in the general study of Torah law,
and philosophy. His goal was to attain servitude to G-d by recognizing our
total dependency upon Hashem. The greater the recognition, the greater the
The degree of this servitude can be seen in the law of Pigul, which
required the thought process of the Kohain, not just the mechanical
performance of his service, to be uncompromised by any other thought other
than to serve Hashem.
The Kohain, in his capacity as role model and teacher, was commanded to
"bless the people". This three-fold blessing confered upon the nation their
natural capacity for fully integrating G-d into their daily lives.
Blessings in general are not magical formulas for creating what isn't
there, but indicators of potential that already exists. It often takes the
encouraging blessing of a Tzadik or loving parent to help us acknowledge
our own potential. Even a stranger can sometimes see in us qualities that
we are afraid or reluctant to accept. (remember, every ability carries with
it a responsibility) The Gemara in Berachos 7A concludes, "Let not the
blessing of a "simple" person be "light" in your eyes." Therefore, when the
Kohanim blessed the people they confirmed our potential to fully integrate
Hashem into our lives. This should encourage us to overcome our natural
reluctance, and accept the responsibilities and restrictions that attend
the integration of G-d into daily life.
Considering the Kohain's position as the ultimate role model, it makes
perfect sense that the Kohain is the one to confer this blessing. It is far
easier to accept that we are capable of accomplishing something when
encouraged by someone who has already accomplished the very same thing.
It is important to note that the Kohain's blessing does not depend upon the
degree of his own integration of G-d into daily life. Even a Kohain who is
less observant than the community he blesses is still obligated to confirm
the blessings of Aharon upon them. This is because the blessing does not
come from the Kohain, but from Hashem. As Rav S.R. Hirsch writes, "The
Priest literally stands in an attitude of service before G-d and it is by
G-d's command that he pronounces the blessing along with the name of G-d".
When the Kohain ascends the "platform to Duchan", he symbolizes the
individual who has become the worthy vessel through which G-d can confer
His blessing upon the community. When the Kohain looses his identity
beneath the veil of his Taills, he symbolizes our potential for total
subjugation to the sovereignty of Hashem. Through the outstretched arms of
the Kohain, Hashem embraces His community and says to them, " you have the
capacity to build for Me a sanctuary in each of your hearts, so that I can
dwell in your midst."
Considering the significance of the Kohain's blessing, it is imperative
that we understand its three-fold capacity for helping us to fully
integrate G-d into our lives. The following explanation is gleaned from the
commentary of Rav S. R. Hirsch.
The first part of the blessing is directed toward material possession and
wealth. Recognizing that all our material wealth, physical well being, and
natural abilities come from Hahsem, we must accept that He gave it to us
for a reason. Whether we are able to use those possessions and abilities to
serve Hashem and find true happiness is also dependent upon Hashem.
Take for example, the gifted child in an inner city setting who struggles
to reach his or her potential, but is struck down by the random bullet of a
drive-by gang shooting. We must recognize that all we have comes from G-d,
and that the time and circumstances necessary to realize our potential are
also from Hashem. Therefore, the first part of the blessing confers "G-d's
blessing upon us" (with material goodness), and "His watching over us" (so
that we can realize our potential).
The second part of the blessing is directed toward spiritual abilities and
accomplishments. Beyond material possessions and wealth is the ability to
understand how to use what G-d has given us to best serve Him. Each and
every one of us has an individual and collective responsibility to proclaim
G-d's sovereignty through our every thought and action. To do so properly
requires the intellectual ability to understand G-d's Torah, and the wisdom
to practically apply His laws to the circumstances of our lives. This is
the meaning of total integration. As the Rambam explains, we have the
capacity to serve Hahsem in every which way; including when we sleep, eat,
and exercise. To successfully integrate G-d into our lives to that degree,
requires clarity, focus and vision. Therefore, the second part of the
Bracha, confers G-d's blessing on us for "illumination" (which is the
clarity of purpose that comes with understanding Hahsem's Torah); and
"showing us favor" (which is the ability to wisely apply that understanding
to the circumstances of our lives).
The third part of the blessing is directed toward the mission of the Jews.
Keep in mind that our mission as the "chosen people" is to teach the
nations of the world. Just as Avraham and Sarah taught non-Jews the reality
of monotheism, so too must we teach the non-Jews how to integrate
monotheism into their daily lives. All material and spiritual possessions
that Hashem has granted us are intended to accomplish this mission.
The challenge inherent in being "chosen" is to remain both humble and
effective. Humble - in seeing ourselves as responsible for others, rather
than superior to them. Effective - in seeing ourselves as teachers who
understand them and are available to help them, rather than holier than
thou critics who are judgmental of them and apart from them.
In order for the other nations to learn from our example they must perceive
our divinely ordained differences as goals toward which they can strive,
rather than differences that merely divide and set us apart. Therefore, in
the third part of the blessing G-d "lifts His countenance to us" (meaning,
recognizing that we are separate for a reason, and humbly accepting the
responsibility of being His Chosen People.) and He then "confers upon us
the blessing of Sholom" (meaning, peace, harmony, and our acceptance by the
other nations as their teachers and role-models.)
Rav S. R. Hirsch concludes: If only you will be a true, genuine servant of
G-d with all your body and soul, so that G-d will be able to to see in you
the fulfillment of His ultimate purpose, then all those around you who are
sensitive and thoughtful will recognize you as that element which makes
their own lives whole, spurs them on to good endeavors, and sustains them
in existence. Every breath drawn by an individual who truly serves G-d will
elicit a responsive chord from the universe around him.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.