וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. דַּבֵּר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תְבָרְכוּ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אָמוֹר, לָהֶם. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ. יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ. יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם. וְשָׂמוּ אֶת-שְׁמִי, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַאֲנִי, אֲבָרְכֵם
God spoke to Moses: “Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: ‘May God bless you and protect you! May God deal kindly and graciously with you! May God bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace!’ Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” — Numbers 6:22-27
The words of the priestly blessing, first articulated in Parashat Naso, are a well-loved thread in the fabric of our community at BJ. We may hear them recited at the Shabbat table, or sung to our community’s children at the end of a Shabbat morning service, under the gentle protection of tallitot. The words are powerful, both personal and inclusive—a blessing for the entirety of B’nai Yisrael, but offered in the second person: “May God bless you.”
The second line of the bracha, often translated as a blessing of kindness and grace, can be literally translated as “May God make God’s face shine upon you.” A medieval midrash interprets this line as a reference to the Shekhinah, the feminine and accessible presence of God (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:5). The light of God’s face, the midrash asserts, is the same presence that the Zohar describes as dwelling with the Israelites in the wilderness. The Shekhinah also follows the Jewish people into exile, according to the Talmud. In Tractate Megillah 29a, the Divine Presence is depicted as accompanying the Jewish people in exile in every generation, as a sign of God’s love.
What new depth may we derive from the priestly blessing, in a moment when exile feels all too acute? Perhaps we feel estranged from our normal routines, and unmoored in this new world of virtual community. Kept in our homes with limited physical contact, maintaining our community at a physical distance, this bracha offers us a different vision of presence. Even in our most fractured and most isolated, our tradition understands that we are not alone—the Shekhinah, God’s in-dwelling Presence, sits beside us in a brave new world. This blessing is not only one of kindness and grace, but of continuity. To bless one another with these words is a powerful expression of the constancy of our community, even when we are physically apart. May God bless you, and protect you. May God make God’s face shine upon you. May God lift God’s face to you, and grant you peace.