Nothing To Sneeze At

Parashat Naso


Just a few days ago, during the Mussaf service for Chag Shavuot, we heard the kohanim recite the formula, found in this week’s parasha, for bestowing blessing on the Jewish people.

“Y’varechicha Hashem, v’yishmarecha. Ya’air Hashem panav elecha, v’yichunekka. Yisa Hashem panav elecha, v’lisaim l’cha shalom”

“May the Lord bless you and watch over you.

May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you.

May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.”

(Num. 6:24-26)

One of the most satisfying rituals in my life is my weekly opportunity to bless my children on Friday nights, before making Kiddush. It is a wonderful, private, albeit brief moment to connect with them, and focus my entire being towards each of them, and  give of myself to them, spiritually.  When my children starting spreading their wings and spending shabbatot away from home I gave them their b’racha (blessing) on the phone. During this past year, with my daughter in school in Jerusalem, I made sure to connect with her erev shabbat as well. In fact, because of the time difference, I started to feel the special just -before-shabbat energy emanating from the Holy Land in the morning, and Fridays began to feel more and more special.

The traditional text the kohanim use is the same blessing Jewish parents have been bestowing on their children for generations.

I remember Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach saying that we all have the power to bless each other, and we should, at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the only time most people extend a blessing is after hearing someone sneeze, and most of the time do not actually have the intent of bestowing a genuine blessing, of giving of themselves to another. More on this in a moment…

As our memories of Chag HaShavuot, our celebration of the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel, start to drift away in the warm spring air, it is fitting to re-examine the events preceding that historic moment of revelation.

The scene: The Israelites are camped in the Sinai desert, opposite the mountain,shortly after being liberated from Egyptian bondage.

Moshe went up to [the Presence of] G-d, and Ad-noy called to him from the mountain, saying, “This is what you shall say to the House of Yaakov, and tell to the Bnei Yisrael. You saw what I did to Egypt; and [how] I carried you on wings of eagles, and brought you to Me.  And now if you listen diligently to My voice, and preserve My covenant; you shall be My special treasure among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. You will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim, and a holy nation.” These are the words that you shall speak to the Bnei Yisrael.” (Ex. 19:3-6)

A kingdom of kohanim, of priests. A priest is a special emissary of the Divine, capable of extending G-d’s blessing to whomever they come in contact with. Rashi quickly points out that this verse is not meant to be taken literally, and offers a proof text that refers to Kind David’s descendants as kohanim. Only the descendants of  Moses’ brother Aaron are technically called “kohanim”, the special family line that is the spiritual conduit for the the offerings in the Temple, and all matters of holiness.

Yet, we were all created for just that purpose.

G-d’s covenant with Abraham stipulated that we would be a blessing, and the entire world would be blessed through us. “Through your children, will be blessed all the nations of the world, because you heeded My voice” (Gen. 22:18)

Then, as we, as a nation, were preparing to receive the Torah, we were reminded of our innate ability to reflect the G-dliness in each of us, and bless others. Now, as we try to hold on to our symbolic reenactment of  the receiving of the Torah last Sunday, let’s not forget our inherited abilities.

Don’t let the experience of Chag Shavuot pass, with only the memory of the taste of cheesecake to show for it. Rejoice, bask in the light of our inheritance, and realize that we have the power to spread this light to others.

That is surely nothing to sneeze at…

Blessing all us to have a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Greg