By Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell
In the middle of this week’s Torah portion we read something quite familiar to us, words of blessing, the three-fold bless that Jews use to bless each other on so many occasions.
ADONAI spoke to Moses, Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
May ADONAI bless you and watch over you;
May ADONAI make His face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
May ADONAI turn His face toward you
and give you peace.”’
Thus shall they will link My name with the Israelites, and I will bless them. (Num. 6:22-27)
What is the meaning of these words with which we bless our children each and every Shabbat?
According to the commentary, the Me’am Lo’ez, the blessing is to be understood in the following way –
May ADONAI bless you… this includes all the good things in the world, both in this world and in the World to Come. And, as it says “May God bless you” it implies that God will bless you with possessions, many possessions. And watch over you, alludes to God watching over your soul against the Yetzer HaRa, your baser instincts, lest they get the better of you because of your possessions and you fall into sin.
May ADONAI make His face shine on you… that is to say that God will grant you the privilege to have Torah scholars descend from you who will enlighten the world with the light of Torah. God will also grant you the light of the Shekhina-Presence, as it is stated in scripture, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of ADONAI rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).
And be gracious to you… This means that God will cause the Shekhina-Presence to rest upon you, because the Hebrew word also suggests “camping upon” (based on a word play). But, it also derives from the word חן (Chen) meaning grace or favor, and this suggests that God will cause you to be looked upon favorably by everyone.
May ADONAI turn His face toward you… should it happen that you come under a severe decree and repent of your wrong-doing, may God “turn His face toward you” and hear your prayer and annul the severe decree against you.
The reason given why the blessing is cast in the singular (whereas we might expect this blessing to be in the plural, directed collectively to all the people) is that the priests would bless the people only when the Israelites were united as if they were one individual. And then, it was as if the priests would speak to each person individually. Moreover, the Holy One of Blessing found no better vessel to contain blessing for Israel than peace, as it is written, “May ADONAI grant strength unto His people, may ADONAI bless His people with peace” (Ps. 29:11). That is to say that the Holy One of Blessing found no better vessel to bring blessing than peace.
And the blessing concludes with a verse not included in the liturgical recitation but is, nonetheless quite significant, “Thus shall they link My name with the Israelites, and I will bless them.”