Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
In the middle of Parashat Naso we happen upon one of the central blessings of our tradition:
The Eternal spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and to his sons: Thus shall you bless the children of Israel. Say to them: The Eternal One blesses and keeps you always. The Eternal One shines His face upon you and is gracious to you. The Eternal One lifts up His face toward you, and brings you peace. (Num. 6:22-26)
As much as we may cherish the age and history of the Priestly Blessing, many 21st-Century moderns find the concept of blessing foreign and uncomfortable. Why revert to ancient practices that seem to conjure up the goodwill of a God “out there”? Our objection may be especially legitimate in this case, because the Temple priests seem to have been in the position of mediating between God and the people, as if we humans needed an intermediary to help us communicate with our own inner Source.
What were the priests attempting to do in performing this blessing? A concluding verse in Torah, which is not included in our traditional rendition, may provide the answer. “V’Samu et sh’mi Ahl b’nai Yisrael V’Ani Avarechem—Thus they shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). First, by placing the name of God upon that which was being blessed, the Priest was to recognize that the object of the blessing was a manifestation of God. Second, the Priest’s task was to help the “children of Israel” themselves awaken to the name of the One within them, so that they could receive God’s blessing directly and know that God was the One Who blessed them. In so doing, the biblical author gives us the key to unlock the true purpose of the Priestly Blessing, and indeed of every 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. Even more, it is a pathway toward awakening to the Divine Being that each of us is.
The first aspect of blessing is directed toward the “outside.” It 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 page on which they appear. Everything is God.
The second aspect is directed within. Each time we bless, it causes our perspective to shift away from the separate sense of 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 the truth of that Oneness. The question this practice triggers within us is: Who is blessing? Here we move from a dualistic ego-centered consciousness (what the Kabbalists call Mochin de Katnut: small mind) to a God-centered consciousness (what the Kabbalists call 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 that is 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 take a break from the rush of our ego-driven lives from time to time and consciously engage with the moment at hand, bless it, and truly say: “Amen!”
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