Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 14, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the Bnei Yisrael.[1]

According to a medrash, the Bnei Yisrael were none too happy about this arrangement. “You’ve told the kohanim to bless us? We don’t require more than that You bless us!” HKBH responds to them, “Even though I command them to bless you, I stand and bless you.”[2]

Shouldn’t they have said, “We wish that You would bless us,” rather than “We don’t require…?” Additionally, saying that they are fine making good with His berachah alone is puzzling. It sounds like Hashem’s blessing is more limited than the blessing of human beings. Isn’t the opposite true – that no human blessing can hold a candle to that of Hashem?

Upon closer examination, however, we see the wisdom in how they spoke. Blessings offered by human beings are indeed often richer and more verbose than those recorded by Hashem. Those blessings include wealth, honor, longevity – essentially, many things that the blessing’s recipient longs to receive for himself. But we know that all too often, what we think are blessings are challenges, pitfalls – or worse. As mortals, we really do not know what is good for us!

Our literature records that some used to explicitly include a caveat in their davening: Hashem, please give me what You know is good for me! I’ve written elsewhere that this thought is at the core of the Mishna in Avos,[3] “Don’t make your prayer fixed, but [make it] rachamim.” Meaning: Don’t make the mistake of asking for fixed gifts or outcomes. They may not be in your best interests. Don’t look so narrowly that you ask for specifics. Rather, your request to Hashem should be, “You know what it is that I need. If my aveiros or poor mitzvah performance mean that I do not deserve what I genuinely need, I pray for Your rachamim, that I be granted it nonetheless.”

The response of the Bnei Yisrael to Hashem’s instruction is therefore understandable. “Please do not leave us at the mercy of the blessings kohanim will offer, based on their own understanding. Certainly, they will offer all the good things that people think they want and need. We, however, would prefer a pared-down list. We want only those things that You know are good for us, even if some items on the fuller list are deleted.”

Hashem acknowledges their concern. “I have indeed instructed the kohanim to bless you. But I’ve written a script for them. I have not left them to their own devices, to compose blessings as they see fit. Rather, they are to use the brief formula I’ve composed for them. Were they to author a text on their own, it would certainly ask for all kinds of things – for everyone. By telling them, however, that they are to simply say, ‘Hashem should bless you and preserve you,’ it leaves room for a blessing that differs from person to person. For one person, it will imply wealth. For another, it may mean the opposite.

This, in essence, is that the end of the medrash means. “They will bless you. But I will stand behind the blessing, orienting it differently according to the needs of each individual recipient.”

  1. Bamidbar 10:23
  2. Bamidbar Rabbah 11:2
  3. Avos 2:13