I remember as a child going to an Orthodox synagogue to celebrate a family friend becoming Bar Mitzvah, and, at one point in the service, seeing a number of men go to the front, put their tallit over their heads and then reach out their hands in some strange gesture as they said words of Hebrew. I commented that it looked like a Ghostbusters moment with the way that the tallit covered them. Later on I would discover that this was the moment when the Cohanim, the priests of that community, stepped forward to offer the priestly blessing upon the whole congregation. Today, I have the opportunity to offer the priestly blessing in two contexts. As a Rabbi, I give the priestly blessing to the B’nai Mitzvah and to various other people who come up to the Bimah to receive blessings. But, as a father, I get to give the blessing to my daughter Gabby every Shabbat, when my wife and I together, bless her.
The words that we use for the priestly blessing come from this week’s Torah portion where we’re told “and God spoke to Moses saying speak to Aaron and to his son saying, in this way you shall bless the people of Israel, saying to them…and, then God gives the blessing which incorporates God. And so God tells us to bless each other by saying “Yevarechecha Adonai veyishmerecha, may God bless you and keep you, Yaer Adonai panav elecha veyichuneka, may God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, Yisa Adonai panav elecha veyasem lecha shalom, may God lift up God’s face to you and give you peace.”
It’s a beautiful blessing that God gave to the priests that we, in turn, give to one another. The first part of it just speaks of blessing and being protected, the second part has this idea of God’s face shining and then being gracious to us. But in that final part, we have a sense of God really lifting up God’s face to look upon us, eye to eye, directly and then giving us peace. In this way, we might see that the blessing elevates and gets bigger and bigger so that ultimately, the final blessing is one – for God to see us, and two – for us to have peace.
There’s something very powerful about this blessing and I know that when I get to offer this blessing to B’nai Mitzvah, and, when I get to offer it to my daughter, I am always struck by what it means to give a blessing and to share a blessing. And, in the end, in the following verse of our Torah, it says “and they shall put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.” In this way, when we give this blessing, not only do we share in this history stretching back to Aaron the priest, not only do we get to offer wonderful words, but we firmly associate ourselves with God, as God places God’s name upon the people of Israel.
It is wonderful to receive a blessing, but it is even more powerful to be able to give a blessing and share that blessing with others. I hope that we all have many opportunities to share our blessings.