Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Torah Talk for Shabbat Naso 5779
This week we chant the second portion of the book of Numbers, called Naso, which includes a remarkable blessing. The Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, is really three distinct brachot, three separate prayers, with which the ancient priests are commanded to bless the people.
From its inception this three-part blessing had exceptional importance. As the Torah quotes God saying, “with this blessing you will place My Name on the people of Israel, samu et shemi al b’nai Yisrael”—that is, this very blessing conveys God’s presence among us, and offers God’s protection.
The blessing was given by the Kohanim, the highest class of priests, those entrusted with the service of the Tabernacle and Temple. We still use this blessing at every joyous life-cycle event, and it remains powerful. The text is:
May God bless you and guard you.
May the light of God’s presence shine on you and be gracious to you.
May God’s presence turn to you and grant you peace.
In essence, the Birkat Kohanim asks God to supply our most important needs. The majority of the interpretations of this portion see the first blessing requesting physical safety and health, the second asking for our material needs to be satisfied, and the third blessing seeking spiritual comfort and confidence.
Without any one of these blessings our lives become a challenge. With all three we are assured true quality of life. After thousands of years, those three elements, safety, grace and peace, remain central to our lives, and a gift from God.
May you be blessed with each of these, with all of these, this week and always.