Once again, I would like to pay attention to one of the most precious parts of the Torah, the Three-fold (- Priestly) Blessing, found in our Torah portion. (For previous treatments see Sparks for the years 2010, 2011, 2012.)
These short statements are first called “blessings,” given by the priests: “Thus shall you [- the priests] bless the Children of Israel.” (Num. 6:23) The words of blessing follow. But the concluding sentence of this text shifts the description of these words. They are characterized by God as mere utterances of the priests, who “place My Name upon the Children of Israel.” But the true act of blessing is done by God, alone: “And then I will bless them.” (v. 27)
It would seem that the “blessing” of the priests is a prayer that hopes for God’s blessing. It would be appropriate to translate each verse with the added initial phrase “May God…” rather than simply saying, as our Etz Hayim translation has it: “The Lord bless you…”
But this is not sufficient. The Torah describes the priests’ utterances in a very special way: “They shall place My Name upon the Children of Israel.” So, these are not simply hopeful prayers. They are acts of bestowal – they “put God’s Name” on us. What does that mean? One possibility is that the sacred four-lettered Name of God is pronounced in each of the three blessing statements. We may appreciate that it is this most unique name of God that is employed. This is the very name that God uses when God must identify Themselves for Moses and Israel at the Burning Bush.
The Torah imagines the Name issuing from the mouths of the priests and flying over to rest gently upon the heads of the people. Perhaps this is the source for the special way the priests describe God’s command for them to bless Israel. They say that God commanded them to bless the people “b’ahavah – with love.” Yet nowhere can we find such a stipulation in the Torah’s text. However, if we take this image of the gentle flight and landing of the Name upon our heads, launched by the priests, we can appreciate that they must set out and place the Name on our heads with love and care, so that it will not have a harsh or heavy impact or, God-forbid, slip off.
There is another lesson we can learn from the Torah’s choice of describing the priestly act as one of “placing the Name.” Such a phrase is an immediate echo of the last words of the Priestly Blessing, literally saying: “May the Eternal lift up Their Face toward you, and place peace for you.” (v. 26) If we listen to this echo, we can understand that there is another Name of God being mentioned – “Peace”, that the priests have “placed” upon the Israelites – so that God may bless them. God must wait for us to do such “placing” before God can or will bless us.
May God’s Name of Peace rest gently but firmly upon us, placed there by our loving fellow human beings.
Rabbi David Greenstein
Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein.