This week in our parasha we read one of the most well-known passages in the Torah: the Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. It is only three lines in length, a total of 15 words but they have been used throughout the centuries to bless our people. We hear them during every Shabbat service, at lifecycle events, whenever a blessing is bestowed it is these words we use. This blessing is one of the oldest known, discovered written on a papyrus 27 centuries old and on amulets and charms from the ancient world. Its rhythm and structure are almost mystical, as it touches and reaches people with its power.
Yevarechecha Adonai veyishmerecha: may God bless and protect you. This verse is generally agreed to be about material wealth and well-being. Judaism has never been an ascetic religion, and we are commanded to enjoy the richness of the earth and all its fullness. But along with that comes a caution, “may God bless you with material wealth AND protect you” …so protect us from what? From our material wealth. We should take care not to become so enchanted by our wealth that we see only ourselves and we forget to share it with those in need. We need protection from the trappings of wealth and abundance so that we are always able to look beyond ourselves and see those around us.
Yaer Adonai Panav eilecha veyichunecha: May God shine upon you and be gracious to you. Judaism holds in high esteem learning and knowledge. In the center of our tradition are intellectual pursuits, debates and striving to be the best we can be. Yet the blessing we recite for our scholars and teachers is that they have grace, love and compassion. For as much as learning is valued, it is not greater than grace, loving-kindness and compassion. Study should lead us to become better people in the world, reaching out to others with goodness, and if we do not do that, then our learning is worth nothing. But if we do bring those qualities into the world God will shine through us. God’s presence will be manifest in our realm through our good deeds and the blessings we bring to others.
Yisa Adonai Panav eilecha veyasem lecha Shalom: May God’s face be lifted towards you and always bring you peace. This is not the peace of the absence of war, this is the peace of wholeness and completeness. It is asking that each of us receive the blessing of knowing and seeing the godliness within ourselves and in others. When another person lifts their face to us, may we see the essence of God shining within them, so that we see them and love them for who they are, and if we can do that, then perhaps others can too, and we can see that in ourselves as well. Bringing us wholeness and peace.
So this Shabbat as we bestow the priestly blessing upon our community may we all be blessed with its three fold benediction now and always. Amen.