Torah Reading for Week of May 16 – May 22, 2010
“The Blessings We Desire”
by Yolande Bloomstein, PhD, LCSW
AJRCA Professor of Chaplaincy Studies
“Thus shall you bless the children of Israel. Say unto them: May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord cause His Presence to illuminate you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord raise up His Presence before you and grant you peace.” (Numbers 6: 23 -25).
This is probably the best known blessing in the Western world, invoked regularly in synagogues and churches. Because of its rich cadences and power, interpretations on its three parts abound. I should like to offer a synthesis of many of these great commentaries.
‘May the Lord bless you” with material sustenance to free you to pursue your personal and spiritual growth. “And protect you’ from your material blessings. The danger of material success and the accumulation of wealth and material goods is that these may become ends in themselves, easily corrupting us and encouraging selfishness, greed, and corruption. Therefore, while we pray that the Lord will bless us with abundance, we pray too that we will be protected from the terrible things that abundance can do to us.
“May the Lord cause His Presence to illuminate”. Many of our Sages have associated this part of the blessing with our prayer for the illumination of insight and understanding. Not only does this follow from the first part of the blessing, but it captures the Jewish ideal of the pursuit of Torah enlightenment. Before we recite the Shema each morning we ask: “Illuminate our eyes with your Torah”. “And grant you grace.” One of the major aspects of the therapeutic relationship is the insight and understanding it gives simultaneously to client and to therapist in the process of healing and growth. Unfortunately, like wealth, Knowledge, too, can be corrupting. It can lead to arrogance, hubris, and the exploitation of the gullible. It is for this reason that we pray that the wisdom that G-d grants us will be used with grace, to benefit others rather than ourselves alone. “May the Lord raise up His Presence before you”. The commentators associate this part of the priestly blessing with our prayer that the Lord be palpably present in our lives protecting us and guiding us with divine providence. The Torah imagines nothing worse than the absence of the Divine from our lives-hester panim, the hiddeness of the Presence. Ultimately it is only when we are conscious of the protecting love of the divine Presence can we be assured of the fulfillment of the final clause of the blessing, “And grant you peace. “