Tucked in Parashat Naso, a parsha about ritual purity, adulterous wives, vows of abstinence and more is Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Benediction, words probably most familiar to us because we say them on Shabbat to our kids, we hear them at b’nai mitzvot.
May God bless you, and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May God’s face be lifted toward you, and bring you peace.
We say the words and we hear them, but do we really think about what they mean?(Rabbi Steve Kushner of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield has a wonderful and short essay on this subject.)
I’d like to use his rubric for understanding this blessing as a way to structure our yoga class this morning.
First, we are asking God for physical protection, the physical necessities of a home, of food and clothing. I would add that we are asking for something even more essential for our physical protection, our health, our ability to be, to exist. That is our overriding theme for our practice–yoga postures that enhance our immunity, that help keep us from disease. A peer-reviewed meta-analysis–I don’t want to get too scientific on anyone, but a meta-analysis combs scientific literature for similar studies and combines their statistics. This 2014 meta analysis covered 984 healthy individuals and compared them to 1365 patients with chronic conditions and found that regular practice of mind/body therapies, including yoga, may reduce inflammation, particularly among those with clinical issues, as evidenced by significant reductions in CRP (C-reactive proteins). In addition, some quality studies say that that MBTs may increase our immunity to viruses.
In the second part of the blessing, Steve says he senses “the emotional.” May God be gracious onto you, vichuneka, comes from the same root as chein–murkily translated as grace, beauty. Or as Steve extrapolates, may God give us a life worth living, a live of meaning. Translated into yoga parlance, I would say that we strive in our practice both this morning and always, as well as in life, for what’s called santosha, meaning contentment, for living with a grace that comes from within. In each pose that we work on in our practice, we strive for being content, thankful for and seeing the beauty in what we can achieve, whatever that may be or where ever we are starting from.
Finally, Steve comes to the final verse: May God bring us shalom. Steve says that it’s how we get to shalom that’s so important–God tilts his/her face to us, implying that we not only get to see God’s face, but we make eye contact. This is, Steve says, the endgame of all religious life; to be at one with God. But wait, aren’t we not permitted to see God’s face? Yes, but we can always see God’s face in each other. The belief that every person is created in tselem elohim or in the image of God is the most fundamental moral tenet in Judaism, according to Dr. Arthur Green. And looking at each other, as tselem elohim, really, making eye contact with one another is how we will end our practice.
(Note: For those interested in how does yoga help our immune system:
a. Improving our lymphatic system: Lymph moves when you move, cleansing the system and restoring energy to fight infection.
b. Improving our ability to breathe–yoga helps send our breath to the upper lobes of our lungs. In our daily existence, we rarely take a full inhalation and are filled with stale air. Yoga, especially pranayama, helps us to more deeply inhale and to better exhale. So, as we always do in yoga, we’ll be cognizant of taking the fullest breaths we can. We’ll also work today on chest opening asanas to aid our breathing and twists “to wring out the toxins”–this is how yogis speak of the benefits of twists but I prefer what the scientific literature tends to say.)
Finally, I’ll reprint here a short drash, slightly rearranged/edited, that I told at the end of the session. This is from one of my favorite internet sites for quick lessons in Judaism, Chicago Torah Network.
Hope you’re having a great day.
… A few thoughts on President Obama’s new initiative.
Increasing the speed of internet connection in America.
Because we are way behind countries like South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands.
And ranked only 10th.
(We used to be 28th)
… I may be hopeless.
Because I grew up at a time that when you turned on your TV?
You actually had to get up and walk over to it. And turn a knob.
And it was worse.
(Some people won’t believe this!)
You literally had to wait for the TV to “warm up”!
So I happen to think that internet access is pretty fast!
And this initiative got me thinking.
I’m all for quicker broadband connection.
And for making downloading faster.
It’s not like I enjoy seeing that little circle turning round and around!
But while we work on a faster internet connection?
We should think about something else.
About a different kind of connection.
How fast are we connecting with other people?
Do we even notice other people?
Do we greet them with a broad smile?
(Pun on “broadband” intended!)
Do we make eye contact with them? (the phrase for today)
How quickly do we notice that someone is down and needs to talk?
And there’s a connection that’s quite fast even in the USA.
… A telephone.
Most of us have one with us at all times.
But how long does it take us to call someone who needs a boost?
… Let’s work on our connection with each other.
And let’s do it quickly!
All the best,