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The Most Famous Blessing of All #781

06/02/2023 02:03:00 PM

Jun2

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Nasso
The Most Famous Blessing of All

In 1979, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay was examining ancient burial caves at Ketef Hinnom—a sacred site just outside of Jerusalem.

It was a hot summer day, as Barkay and his young assistant, Nattan, rummaged through several dusty damp chambers.

Each was busy working on his own section of the site, when suddenly Barkay heard a distant yell from his assistant, “Mr. Barkay, please come here.

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Barkay arrived to see Nattan standing over an area beneath a partially collapsed roof that had once sheltered a large cavern, which would come to be known as Chamber 25.

Inside were about 1,000 artifacts, including writings, mementos and various religious articles.

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And within that dusty pile of ruins sat two tiny silver scrolls—no more than two inches long.

As Barkay carefully dusted the tiny fragments, he squinted inside the flashlight lit room. And what he saw sent shivers thru his body.

The scrolls that had survived more than two millennia contained, perhaps, the most ancient and—in some ways—the most significant blessing within all of Judaism.

And it read in Hebrew:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

“May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious unto you;

“May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

The scrolls were so fragile that it took three years to find a way to unroll them completely without causing them to crumble.

Today the amulets can be seen in the Israel Museum and will be part of our upcoming Israel tour. Their survival is testimony to the ancient connection of Jews to Israel and to the continuity of the Jewish people.

What gives these scrolls their timeless grace and beauty is the simple hope that each of us be eternally blessed with light, hope and peace—both within the larger world and from within.

It also highlights, within our tradition, the importance of blessings.

In ancient times—as we read in this week’s Torah portion—the priests (Kohanim) were designated by God to bless the people, through ancient hand signs and those sacred words.

God’s spirit flowed through the priests to the people, and they were comforted.

To this day, within the Orthodox tradition, as well as in some Conservative congregations, it is still the priests, the Kohanim, who—on major festivals—provide this blessing.

Throughout Israel, the Kohanim deliver this blessing every Shabbat and in Jerusalem, priests do so at every service.

At CTI—once a year to preserve the tradition—just before our afternoon Yom Kippur afternoon break, we call upon the descendants of that priestly tribe to bless the people in that ancient manner.

It reminds us of how important blessings are in our lives.

Some families on Friday night follow this tradition. No matter where we have lived, I have tried to find our daughters on the eve of Shabbat and provide them with that ancient blessing.

They say that somehow it grounds them.

And so, once a year, on this Shabbat, our Torah portion inspires us to consider that the most important and selfless thing that we can do is to turn to a loved one, a relative or friend, a child or grandchild, and say with a full heart, “You mean so much to me.” Or, “God bless you.”

One early afternoon about 25 years ago, as I spent time with my daughter in Ottawa, Canada, we visited a museum exhibit dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls—a collection of artifacts dating back more than 2,000 years.

She called me over and asked what a certain grouping of darkened fragments said in Hebrew.

I squinted and focused on the text under the glass and translated:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

“May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious unto you;

“May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

And she said, “Isn’t that the blessing that you give us on Friday nights?”

I nodded, and there was a quiet timeless moment between us.

Indeed, for as long as we have been a people, we as Jews, and later non-Jews, have been blessing each other with the words found in this week’s Torah portion.

The late Rabbi Abraham Twerski noted that too many believe we give to those we love, when -- in reality -- we love those to whom we give.

“For if I give something to you,” he noted. “Then I invest myself in you and there’s part of me in you that I love.”

Within a world that has become so self-centered, so focused on self-entitlement, what a lesson this is. Life and happiness can be found in greatest abundance, and with greatest satisfaction, when we plant a blessing of well-being within each other.

How lucky we are to have each other.

It is not so much the exact words that are important, but rather the intent, as we focus our attention on those we love – or the entire community—and let them know how much we wish them happiness, light and peace.

We can express it by just saying, “I love you.” Or, “I’m so happy you are part of my life.”

But, most of all, I prefer the words from the Torah that have resonated within Judaism for thousands of years.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

“May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious unto you;

“May the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

And let us say, Amen.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

 

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784