Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
The True Purpose of Blessing
In our Torah reading this week we happen upon one of the central blessings of our tradition; the Priestly Blessing.
And the Eternal spoke to Moses, saying; Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying; Thus you shall bless the children of Israel, say to them: YeVarech’cha YHVH V’Yish’mrecha – The Eternal One blesses and keeps you always. YaEr YHVH Panav Elecha, ViChuneka – The Eternal One shines His face upon you, and is gracious to you. Yissa YHVH Panav Elecha, V’Yassem Lecha Shalom. – The Eternal One lifts up His face toward you, and brings you peace.
V’Samu et sh’mi ahl b’nai Yisrael V’Ani Avarechem. – And they shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them. [Num. 6:22-27]
The concept of blessing is a real challenge to 21st century modernists. It feels uncomfortable to revert back to these ancient practices because, oftentimes, they appear to conjure up the goodwill of a God “out there;” a notion that has become foreign to many of us. It might be especially true in this case, as the opening verses leading up to the blessing seem to place the Temple priests as intermediaries between God and the people; a concept that tends to add to our discomfort to begin with.
What were the priests attempting to do in performing this blessing? The concluding verse might give us the answer. First, by placing the name of God upon that which is being blessed, the Priest is to recognize that the object of the blessing is a manifestation of God. Second, the Priest’s task is to help the “children of Israel” themselves awaken to the name of the One within them, so that they may directly receive God’s blessing; know that God is the One who “will bless them.” In doing so, the biblical author gives us the key to unlock the true purpose of blessing. We are the Priest. The practice of blessing is a pathway toward awakening to the Divine Presence in every thing and every one we encounter; as much as it is a pathway toward awakening to the Divine Being that we are.
The first aspect is directed toward the “outside.” Here, the practice of blessing helps us pause and contemplate for a brief instant what is present in our experience of the moment. The blessing we utter pushes us to remember that this moment, this object, this person is sacred; an expression of the One. The question this practice triggers within us is: What is the true nature of that which I am blessing? It acts as a reminder that all of reality is God God-ing, including these words you are reading and the screen on which they appear. Everything is God.
The second aspect is directed within. Each time we bless causes our perspective to shift away from self, to help us see that which we are blessing as-if through the eyes of God. We practice being “one with God” even though we have yet to realize its Truth. The question this practice triggers within us is: Who is blessing? Here we move from a dualistic ego-centered consciousness (what the kabbalists called Mochin de Katnut: small mind,) to a God-centered consciousness (what the kabbalists called Mochin de Gadlut: big mind.) Seeing the world through God’s eyes we expand beyond the constricted identity of our separate sense of self to an ever more inclusive “I,” until all sense of self dissolves and our “I” merges with the One “I.” From this place in consciousness there is no self saying the Priestly Blessing; in fact, it isn’t a blessing anymore but an affirmation that naturally flows through us.
Therein lies the spiritual potency of the path of blessing. It is a direct path to awakening as it opens us up to the Divine Being within and without all at once. All that is required is that we, from time to time, take a break from the rush of our ego-driven lives to consciously engage with the moment at hand, and to bless it. That in this sacred moment we might truly say: “Amen!”