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Parshas Nasso - Priestly Blessings a Part of Daily Life        11 Sivan 5778

05/25/18 11:47:51


On a recent trip I experienced three different aspects of today’s society. The first is based upon a situation in which we could all find ourselves but might deal with differently than the choice chosen by someone on my flight. Is it better to be delayed an hour on the tarmac before takeoff or wait an hour on the tarmac for a gate to open upon arrival? The last one of the three observances I noticed came about after we landed. As we sat on the tarmac for an hour, passengers were upset, disturbed, and at one point going berserk. With a plane full of people, including children, a passenger began to curse, yelling obscenities at the situation. There was more filth that came out of her mouth than the restrooms had after the flight! Everyone around her was embarrassed for this woman’s behavior, whom, I’m convinced, speaks this way all the time. She simply didn’t care about proper etiquette, not only in public but as human being.

The second thing I discerned mid-flight was the snacks for purchase in flight, displayed to appeal to our need to chew something since the airlines no longer serve meals. The combination of fast food and finger foods has given rise to the same poor manners I was scolded for as a child by the adults who encouraged me to use a fork and knife while eating. Here was just one more indication of how society and our generation have done away with proper manners regarding eating.

The third and final blow came via a commercial for a new brand design of shirts. A relatively new company named UNTUCKit pitches their line as follows: ‘THE IDEAL SHIRT FOR THE UNTUCKED MAN’. These are casual men's shirts designed to be worn untucked because men’s shirts are always coming untucked anyway, so might as well create a shirt that is made to be that way. The company advertises “It's a straightforward look that's often done too little justice. So, we came up with a solution – a shirt that's designed to fall at the perfect length every time. A design fit for comfort, not convention”. Throughout my years in high school, my friends and I heard teachers, principals and administrators barking at us to tuck in our shirts. Could I ever possibly think to myself that I was born a generation early and I would have fit in so happily with the trends of our current times? I believe my answer is an emphatic “NO!”. Certain classifications of clothing are designed for certain occasions; the clothing worn should respect that situation, even today.

Call me old school, old fashioned, or just a plain old stick-in-the-mud, these are just three observations I picked up in the course of one plane ride that sums up the current generation. I consider these examples as an affront to values and behaviors of being civilized that are slowly peeling away basic standards for which the world stands. In general, people are less refined when it comes to their language (foul words), food (eat with their hands) and dress (clothing which demonstrates open disregard for self-pride in personal appearance and for appropriate public attire). My observation is not a religious one – rather, its about society at-large. Kal VaChomer, how much more so does this contemporary relaxation of basic standards speaks about the deterioration of the Torah’s values and standards! The Torah’s standards on issues concerning appropriate laws of propriety and behavior in society are sometimes clear and blatant and at other times hinted to us, such as in the Biras Kohanim - the Priestly Blessings.

In this week’s Parshas Nasso the Torah relates the Kohanim’s responsibility to bless Am Yisrael in Bamidbar 6:22-6:27. The Torah states “Y’Varechecha Hashem V’Yishmirecha”. “Ya’air Hashem Panav Eilecha VeeChuneka”. “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha, V’Yaseim L’Cha Shalom”. “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”. *Rav Shalom Mashash, in his sefer V’Cham HaShemesh, explains that the three verses of the Blessings of the Kohanim correspond to the three stages of life. The first word, Y’Varechecha, is to the infant child who is just beginning to use his limbs and extremities and is just beginning to be aware of those who surround and protect him. At that age they need to eat with their fingers and hands and be watched over. Once the young child has grown through that stage, he/she graduates to using utensils, to eating with a growing awareness of manners and respect for the food which is given. If this stage is not taught, the child will revert to the infant mind-set. The next phase is when the toddler can stand and begin to walk. This is consistent with Hashem’s presence, enlightening each of us to learn to perceive the fear and respect demanded for God. The ‘seeing’ here is the light between good and evil and the accompanying development of understanding and intelligence to all mankind. This leads to VeeChuneka - like education - which begins when a child can speak. The first words we teach a child are Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe, the sweet words of the Torah. A person who curses and blasphemes destroys the beauty of the tongue and insults mastery over language. Finally, in a person’s old age, the last stage Hashem directs His providence is toward you, granting you peace. Typically, as a person grows old, he becomes more tired and weak. An older person is dignified, and the manner of his or her dress should become a symbol of the essence of the life and values he/she has lived. We respect an older person as royalty, a person who represents a lifetime of ever-deepening wisdom. We stand up for them, physically exemplifying respect for these attributes. A king walks around in his finest clothing, wearing the royal robes and the crown befitting his position. As they say, “Clothing makes the man”; being untucked is not cool.

It is critical to receive the proper blessings and perspective in each area to be a well-rounded individual. The three areas that the Torah hints to us are how we eat, how we speak, and how we dress. With this in mind, eating with derech eretz, speaking properly, and dressing suitably we all help us to merit the blessings from God through the Kohanim in our days.

*Rabbi Shalom Mashash, was Jerusalem's chief Sephardi rabbi for 25 years Rabbi Mashash died in 2003 at the age of 90. He was born in Maknes, Morocco, and for many years served as the head of the rabbinical court in Casablanca. After retiring, he immigrated to Israel to serve as chief Jerusalem rabbi, like his cousin Rabbi Yosef Mashash, who served as Haifa's chief rabbi after retiring in Morocco and moving to Israel.

In 1978, then-Israeli Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef asked Rabbi Mashash to come to Jerusalem and become its chief Sephardic rabbinic authority. When he departed for Israel, Rabbi Mashash was escorted to the airport by Morocco's King Hassan himself, who requested that the Rabbi bless him one last time before his departure, and that it be his last act on Moroccan soil.

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780