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Parshas Nasso - The Blessings We All Wait For     12 Sivan 5780

06/12/20 13:04:29


Amazingly enough, we just concluded our second of the “Shalosh Regalim,” the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos while davening at home in isolation. Who would ever have thought, who could ever have imagined such a bizarre situation which has temporarily paralyzed the entire world , impacting the Jewish people in such a devastating manner? Despite all the difficulties and challenges of this pandemic, we Jewish people have the halachik protocols needed to meet every situation. Many aspects of Jewish life have been affected, and many parts of Tefillah need to be modified for personal, private prayer in place of communal prayer consisting of a minyan of ten. I have heard rabbis speak about Hallel, Yizkor, the Megilos of Shir HaShirim and Rus. The detailed laws of Chometz and Matzah, who is obligated and who is not. I’ve listened to and studied the relevant customs of the Omer down to the shortage crisis of Cholov Yisroel cream cheese in the New York metropolitan area needed to make cheesecake for Shavuos! One topic which slipped beneath my radar if not all the Jewish people, is that of Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly blessings.

To be perfectly honest, there was a brief moment of attention Birkas Kohanim received in Israel. On Chol HaMoed Sukkos and Pesach there is one day selected for ALL Kohanim to recite Birkas Kohanim altogether. There were some images sent around contrasting the throng of Kohanim last year as compared to a few spread-out Kohanim seen at the Kotel this year. True, in Israel everyone (both Ashkenazim and Sephardim) “Duchans” (the platform) every day of the year, while outside of Israel Sephardim continue this practice but Ashkenazim limit these blessings to the festivals. So far, between Pesach and Shavuos, we have missed out on Birkas Kohanim six times! These unique, special words are directly from the Torah and are always read aloud around the holiday of Shavuos. The question is why?

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah lists the Priestly Blessing or priestly benediction ברכת כהנים. This blessing is also known in rabbinic literature as ‘raising of the hands’ -נשיאת כפים or rising to the platform - עליה לדוכן. For many, the word ‘Dukhanen’ is used. This is Yiddish for the Hebrew word Dukhan – platform –because the blessing is given from a raised platform. This prayer is recited by Kohanim who are descendants of Aharon. The text of the Bracha is found in Bamidbar 6:23–27. "דבר אל אהרן ואל בניו לאמר, כה תברכו את בני ישראל אמור להם. יברכך ה' וישמרך. יאר ה' פניו אליך ויחונך. ישא ה' פניו אליך וישם לך שלום." “Speak to Aharon and his sons saying: This is how you must bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘May God bless you and keep watch over you. May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace. May God direct His providence toward you and grant you peace.” According to the Torah, Aharon blessed the people and Hashem promised that "I will place my name on their hands" (the Kohanim's hands) "and bless them" (the Jews receiving the blessing). Chaza”l, the Sages, stressed that although the Kohanim are the ones carrying out the blessing, it is neither the Kohanin nor the ceremonial practice of raising their hands that results in the blessing; it is God's desire that His blessing should be symbolized and communicated through the raised hands of the Kohanim. The Midrash on the passuk in Bamidbar 6:25: “May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace” dissects the verse and explains it as follows: “May Hashem’s presence enlighten you” refers to opening one’s eyes and heart to Torah. The words “grant you grace” is explained by Rebbi Chiya HaGadol that Hashem should camp within us. The question is what do these two ideas of opening our eyes to Torah and granting grace have to do with each other? HaRav Yehuda ben Yosef Peretz in his sefer ‘Perach Levanon’ (Berlin 1712) explains that the angels protested that Hashem should give of His countenance to the heavens and the Torah should be given to them. The reasoning, they argued, was the law of ‘Bar Matzra’, Aramaic for border or boundary. (Note: There are variant ways as to how this word is pronounced, including mitzra or metzra. I chose what seems the most common.) A “bar matzra” is someone who shares a boundary with someone else. In halachah, a bar matzra is awarded certain rights in relation to the property that abuts the common border. Namely, if someone wants to sell his field, his direct neighbor has first rights of refusal to purchase it in order to make his own land contiguous. Since the angels were physically closer to God and the Torah when it was in heaven before it was given, they requested to have the Torah. Therefore, to negate their claim,Hashem took His presence and brought it close to us, the Jewish people. And so, here we see Hashem’s great kindness: in the first part of the passuk Hashem lightens us up with the Torah and perhaps the Malachim, the angels, have a right to their claim of Bar Matzra. However, along comes the second half of Veechuneka stating that Hashem will make His presence be with us - the law of Bar Matzra will be with us!

We are clearly living through a time of darkness – we tend to ‘see’ but cannot truly comprehend what we are trying to focus through. The events that we have been and continue to live through are both eerie and downright frightening. There is nothing conclusive, nothing clear with regard to the myriad of questions surrounding Covid-19. The unrest and lack of discipline in our country and throughout the world has us all wondering if we are progressing, positively moving forward, or regressing to the times of old. I don’t believe any one person has a clear, concise, or even close-to-perfect answer that will as yet begin to lay a foundation towards some satisfactory solution for assuaging these fears of all the unknowns and ramifications concerning this challenging time. But, as caring and observant Jews, we know there is one thing in life that does give us clarity and a ray of hope towards the future - and that is the Torah.

Our duty in the middle section of the Kohanim’s Bracha is to allow the light of Torah to shine, to literally light up the path of life for us. But this, however, is predicated upon the latter half of the Bracha – to allow Hashem to reside within ourselves, our family, and our community, to welcome Hashem to become a true part of our daily lives. We look forward to earning the love of Hashem to be with us and have the Torah near to us so we can all be the recipients of the Birkas Kohanim in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh, witnessing the rebuilding of the third Beis HaMikdash speedily in our day.

Mon, January 25 2021 12 Shevat 5781