Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Who Will Water All The Children Of The Garden (Robert Hunter, Phil Lesh, & Jerry Garcia - "St. Stephen")

On Erev Shabbat, (Friday Nights) when families gather to mark the arrival of Shabbat, several blessings are made. Among the blessing that occur in many traditional Jewish homes is a blessing for the children.  As a child, I remember dutifully walking towards my father and receiving the blessing for a son, then my sister dutifully walking over towards my father and receiving the blessing for a daughter, and then he would put his arms around us and recite the priestly benediction. When I became a father, I also blessed each of my children.  I remember that when my wife and I were blessed with our children, there was never a discussion about this ritual. There was never a discussion as to who would do it and how it would be done.  In our home each child comes to me and I quietly bless each one individually, almost whispering the words. It is one of those private moments that everyone else who happens to be at the Shabbat dinner table can see. Yet for me, I am invoking a blessing that is as ancient as the Torah but remains relevant to this very day.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Naso. The Parsha’s 176 psukim make it among the longest single parshiot in the entire Torah.  Its length is also reflected in the wide variety of topics covered including:  the census for the tribe of Levi, the Priestly tribe, the responsibilities for the maintenance and operation of the Mishkan, the purification of the camp,  the treatment of the wayward wife (the Sotah), the vow of the Nazir ( a vow that limits the behavior of the individual as a means of elevating oneself to a higher level of holiness for only a limited time),  the identical tribal offerings made by each leader in order on twelve successive days that celebrated the fact that the Mishkan was “open for business”. Inserted in these seemingly disparate rules and narratives is the priestly benediction. A quick glance at the different components of Parsha Naso suggests that each is connected to each other because of the idea of Naso – “lift up”. Indeed each component discussed issues of how we can raise ourselves up in holiness, either through our own actions or the actions of the other.

The Priestly benediction is an example of a third party elevating us, or at least offering a supplication to God on our behalf that we indeed are worthy of blessing.  From that perspective, I can’t imagine a more powerful ritual for parents to do with their children. Yevarechecha Adoshem VaYishmarecha, May Hashem bless you and keep you. Ya' eir Adoshem Panav Eilecha VaYichuneka, May Hashem make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you Yisa Adoshem Panav Eilecha VaYaSem Lecha Shalom May Hashem lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.( Num 6:24-26)  I have been saying this blessing for 23 years. I have received this blessing every Friday night from the time I was 5 until I left for college at 18. When I came home to visit my father would still give me this blessing. What does it mean that God should “keep" our children or “guard” our children? Naturally as parents invoking Hashem to protect our children seems like a great idea given all the tsuris in the world. Yet Rashi, the great 11th century French commentator explains that this first blessing is not Hashem protecting our children. Rather the “blessing” should be the blessing enumerated in the Torah, that our children should be materially well off and Hashem should “protect” our children and their material blessings from those who might take such blessing. The second blessing which speaks of “shining Hashem’s face upon” our child is our desire for our children to become enlightened by Torah and a meaningful relationship with Hashem. The “gracious” is the subliminal understanding that all we can ask for is that our children have an intellectual and spiritual ability to learn Torah and connect to Hashem; we hope Hashem was gracious in giving our children plenty of ability in order to receive such “light”.  The third blessing is perhaps the most relevant for parents and children. Rashi explains that “lifting His countenance to you” means that Hashem should suppress His anger. Even though our children may do something wrong, Hashem should show special consideration and not punish. Rather present the opportunity for Tshuvah so that our children can once again become Shaleim – whole as well as know Shalom – peace of spirit.
Even now, when we are together and he sees me blessing his grandchildren (my children) he still has the inclination to bless me.  You know something? He is right. The priestly benediction doesn’t grow old. It applies to children of all ages. It especially applies to middle age children raising a family and dealing with all the modern trials and tribulations that can truly diminish their sense of Shaleim, their sense of Shalom, and their striving towards a life of Kedusha.
Rav Yitz

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