Naso: On blessing children with kindness, gift of peace


Numbers 4:21-7:89

Judges 13:2-25

A wonderful sense of beshert (destiny) can unfold in the course of the cycle of Torah readings, if we are open to it. Of course, the cycle of Torah readings proceeds with its own logic, dictated by the ancient rabbis, linked to events in the liturgical calendar, related to peculiarities in that year's calendar. Thus, the order of Torah portions is related to the master story of the Jewish people. Yet, it can be uncannily related to our own personal stories as well.

I have become aware that, if I am alert and open, I frequently notice a teaching in the week's parashah that seems sent just for me — a personal gift, a revelation sent with special meaning to me, at just the right moment.

This week, I find myself preparing for my daughter's graduation from her day school, savoring the many ways in which my daughter brings blessing into my life and imagining what blessings I would like to give her on this special milestone in her life. Sure enough, I opened the Chumash and found in this week's parashah the priestly benediction, the blessing with which I bless my child every Shabbat.

For all of us with children in our lives with whom we share blessing, I offer these thoughts on the priestly blessing.

"Yevarechecha HaShem veyishmerecha" ("May God bless you and keep you").

The ancient commentators, of course, always intent on extracting every morsel of meaning from the divine text, work hard to uncover the special meanings of every word of this prayer. The ancient midrashic collection, the Sifrei, suggests that the two verbs in this first line of the blessing refer to different kinds of divine gifts. "Yevarechecha" ("May God bless you," in this interpretation) refers to money, or material gifts. Later commentators elaborate, however, that material wealth without inner peace is no blessing at all. So this blessing is a prayer for material comfort, along with the inner peace to recognize blessing, to know that you have all you need.

"Yishmerecha" ("May God keep you") refers to divine protection from physical danger. As such, this first part of the blessing asks for basic safety and security, and perhaps, the awareness to recognize the source of all blessing. It might best be rendered, "May God bless you with all you need, and shield you from harm."

"Ya'er HaShem panav eilecha viy'chunecha" ("May God show you favor and be gracious to you").

The first phrase asks God to shed divine light on your face, to make your face radiate with blessing and holiness.

The latter verb in this verse, "viy'chunecha," comes from the word chen, best translated as "grace." "Chen," or "grace," is untranslatable, ineffable. It is that quality of lived experience when something beautiful shows up for absolutely no apparent reason. It is when wonderful things happen unexpectedly, astoundingly, that they point to the hand of a higher power.

Rashi connects the word "chen" in this context to the word chinam — when a beautiful gift is given for free. One later commentator suggests that this prayer is a sort of bargain with God, as if to say, "Even if your people make themselves unworthy of Your lovingkindness, bless them anyway with Your grace, for that is Your nature" (Chafetz Chayim, quoted in Itturei Torah, Vol. 5, P. 44). By this logic, the verse might mean, "May God's light shine on you, and bless you with grace."

"Yisa HaShem panav eilecha veyasem lecha shalom" ("May God show you kindness and grant you peace").

The first phrase asks God to lift the divine face in your direction. What does this mean, if God has no face, no human form? Perhaps that your face will reflect the essence of the divine, or simply, that God will face you with care and tenderness.

Finally, God is asked to bless you with peace. Not surprisingly, peace is the climax of the prayer. Without peace, one cannot enjoy any of the other blessings. Without peace, one can not turn to recognize the Source of all blessing.

"May God face you with love, and give you peace."

For all the children in our lives, and for all in need of blessing, may these prayers be answered.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Rabbi Amy Eilberg serves as a spiritual director, peace educator and justice activist, and teacher of Mussar. More information on her work can be found at