The gift that keeps on giving

Posted on June 10, 2024

By Hazzan Jenna Greenberg.

Parashat Bamidbar is usually read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, as it was this year. The sages connect these because Bamidbar literally means “in the wilderness.” And as we know, our ancestors wandered through the wilderness on their journey, from entering the land of Cana’an as a newly freed people, to Har Sinai, where Moshe revealed God’s Torah to them.

Parashat Naso, this week’s portion, therefore usually is read on the Shabbat following Shavuot, as it is this year. One of the greatest highlights of Naso is the priestly blessing, Birkat Kohanim. Also known as the threefold blessing, this ancient blessing was recited by the kohanim twice a day in the Beit haMikdash in Jerusalem while standing on a special platform known as a duchan…hence the origins of this practice being referred to as “duchening.”

From Num. 6:24-26, this ancient blessing reads as follows: 

The LORD bless you and protect you!

The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!

The LORD bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace!

These holy words fall at the very center of the longest parasha in the Torah, Naso. Within the three lines, we find 6 powerful requests of God upon us: to be blessed; to be protected; to deal with us kindly; and graciously; to be bestowed with God’s favor; to be granted with peace.

When reflecting on the power of these holy words, the link that I see between Shavuot and Naso is our desire to help create the ideal holy relationship with God. After all, Shavuot celebrates the brit, the covenant, between God and the B’nai Israel. We are familiar with the golden rule from the holiness code in Vayikra: V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha; love your neighbor as yourself. In a way, this priestly blessing from our parasha is in partnership with this biblical understanding of how we should act in the world, to be holy, to bring more holiness to the world through our human interactions. We hope that, by trying our best to love ourselves and others, God will grant us these gifts outlined in this ancient blessing.

The golden rule is at the center of Vayikra, right in the middle of the Torah.

The priestly blessing falls in the very middle of Naso.

The Torah is ideally at the heart of our lives. 

As we journey from Shavuot to Naso this week, may we be reminded of the strength of God’s words in our lives, of the centrality of the gift of the Torah, the gift that keeps on giving. May our actions and the blessings within these five holy books bring us blessing, protection, kindness, graciousness, divine love, and peace.