Monday, May 30, 2011

Portion Naso (The Source of Blessing)

What kind of things do we, as Jews, bless? A typical first response might include: various foods, candles, holy days, and actions that involve the fulfillment of a mitzvah (all of the asher kidshanu b’mitzvotahv. . . blessings). Yet in truth, we do not bless any of these things. When we say, “HaMotzi,” we are not blessing the bread that we eat. When we light candles on Friday night, we do not bless the candles, or even the Shabbat day itself. And when we perform mitzvot, such as counting the omer, we do not sanctify the act in which we are about to engage. The subject of all of our brachot, and thus the only thing that we ever bless—with one prominent exception—is God. This is why we always begin “Baruch Atah Adonai—Praised are You, O God. . .” We bless OVER candles or wine or holy days or various mitzvot, but they are simply the vessels for, rather than the objects of, the blessing. In other words, we use these things as an opportunity to express our gratitude to the One who created them (and us).

The one exception to this general rule comes from this week’s Torah portion, Naso. In it, God offers the words that Aaron and the priests will use to bless the entire people of Israel: “May God bless you and keep you. May God’s face shine upon you and may God be gracious to you. May God’s face be raised up to you, and may God give you peace.” Today, we use these same words to bless our sons and daughter on Friday nights.

So the only thing that we Jews bless, other than God, is our children. Significantly, even here, we are more the vehicles of blessing than its source. In the words of the text from Naso, we are essentially asking that God be with our sons and daughters; we parents are merely the intermediaries in the process.

Earlier, in Genesis, God says to Abraham—and by extension to us, his descendants—“Be a blessing.” This is our true Jewish calling. While others may focus on blessing things in space and time, we strive to embody blessing with our lives. We ask this for our children, and we ask it of ourselves.

This week consider: how can you be a blessing in the lives of those you encounter at home, at work, and in the world?

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