Parashas Naso

This week’s parashah includes Birkas Kohanim – the Priestly Blessing. The Torah passage presenting the blessing reads as follows  (Bamidbar 6:23-27):
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying: ‘Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel – say unto them: May Hashem bless you and watch over you. May Hashem shine His countenance on you and be gracious to you. May Hashem lift up His countenance toward you and grant you peace.’ Thus shall they place My Name upon the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them.”
The Maggid notes several puzzling points regarding the blessing. First, the phrase “say unto them” in Hashem’s preface to the blessing appears superfluous. Second, the word say in this phrase, in the Hebrew, is not in the usual imperative verb form (emor, with a segol), but rather in the primal infinitive form (amor, with a kamatz).  Third, since the goal of the blessing is to gain the congregation Hashem’s aid and favor, we would expect that the Kohanim would face Hashem and direct their words to Him: “May You bless and watch over Your people Israel. May you shine Your countenance on them ….” But instead they face the congregation and direct their words to them. How can we explain these enigmas?
The Maggid answers with a parable. A man was upset with his son because of his delinquent behavior. He eventually ended up giving his son the cold shoulder. When the boy’s clothes and shoes wore out, the father did not replace them. The boy, embittered, went to a neighbor and asked him to try to talk his father into getting him new clothes. The neighbor obliged, and he went to the father and said: “Please have pity on your son and get him new clothes and shoes – the freezing winter days are coming.” The father replied: “I plead with you to arrange for me to buy my son new clothes and shoes.” The neighbor reacted to this response with a look of bewilderment. The father then continued: “You fool! Why are you urging me to be kind to my son? Don’t you understand that I love him dearly? Don’t you realize that I want more than anything to shower him with good? I am distancing myself from him now only because his delinquent behavior forces me to, so that he will learn a lesson. If your aim is to get me to be gracious toward him, what is the point of speaking with me? Go to the boy and speak with him instead. Tell him he has to straighten himself out. Once he mends his ways, I’ll gladly give him everything he needs.”
Thus it is with us. There is no point for the Kohanim to plead with Hashem to bless us. Hashem wants to bless us; He yearns, so to speak, to send us a constant flow of bounty. It is with us that the Kohanim need to speak. They must urge us to raise our conduct to a proper level and make ourselves worthy of Hashem’s blessing. They should broadcast this message to us persistently, as indicated by Hashem’s directive “say unto them” – conveyed in the primal infinitive form, which indicates continual action [see Rashi on Shemos 20:7].
This explanation sheds light on a mysterious Gemara in Berachos 7a. The Gemara states that Hashem, so to speak, says the following prayer:
May it be so willed before Me that My compassion overcome My anger, that My mercy take precedence among My attributes, that I act toward My children with the Attribute of Mercy, and that I hold back from subjecting them to the full strictness of the law.
We can understand this “prayer” as an expression of Hashem’s “hope” that we develop the will to act righteously, and thereby enable Him to show us compassion and mercy. This idea ties in with a principle that the Gemara states elsewhere (Berachos 33b): “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.” Hashem is ready and able to grant us abundant blessing, but our worthiness to receive the blessing is up to us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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