In this parashah, the Almighty God imparts to us the Threefold Priestly Blessing. These blessings have accompanied our people throughout the centuries, through all the lands of our exile. They are forever sealed in our hearts, engraved upon our lips, and passed from generation to generation.

May God bless you and safeguard you.
May God illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you.
May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.[1]

God conferred upon our Patriarch Abraham the privilege of bestowing blessing, as the verse states, "And you shall be a blessing."[2] That honor was passed on to Isaac and then to Jacob. In this parashah, Hashem instructs Moses to bequeath this privilege to Aaron and all his descendants, the Kohanim, in perpetuity. In the Land of Israel, the Kohanim bless the congregation daily. Outside of Israel, the Kohanim pronounce the blessings on the holidays. However, no matter where we reside, the blessings are part of our daily prayers. We recite them during the morning service as well as during the bedtime Shema, and the cantor chants these blessings during the repetition of the Amidah. If we stop to consider for a moment that these blessings have survived the centuries and are as a part of us today as they were thousands of years ago when God first proclaimed them at Sinai, we must be struck by the awesomeness of it all.

It is not only during our formal prayers that we pronounce these blessings, but on the eve of every Sabbath. In the glow of the candlelight, prior to making Kiddush, parents impart this blessing to their children. How fortunate we are that we are able to bless our children with the very words that were given to us by God Himself, words that are inscribed in the Torah. Moreover, when we pronounce these blessings, we connect with the millions of souls who preceded us, with our zeides and bubbies who are no longer on this planet, but who whisper the words with us. To this very day, we can hear the voices of our father and our zeides whose berachos we were privileged to receive. They forever accompany us - and so it goes, from generation to generation.

THE MEANING BEHIND THE BLESSING

The blessing is composed of three parts. The first contains three words, in memory of the three Patriarchs; the second, five words, anchoring us to the Five Books of Moses; the third, with seven words, reminds us of the seven heavens, and asks God to shower us with His bounty.

Prior to imparting the blessing, the Kohanim themselves have to recite a prayer, the last word of which is "ahavah" (love), teaching us that a pre-condition to imparting a blessing is that one's heart be overflowing with love. A person may have Torah wisdom, but one who is not a likeable individual will not be able to share these treasures with others and the blessing will remain incomplete.

However, you don't have to be a Kohen to give a blessing. The power to bless is in the domain of all of us, the only prerequisite being that our hearts overflow with love. Blessings are so much a part of our lives that in the holy tongue, we extend a welcome by saying "Baruch HaBa - Blessed is the one who comes," and in Yiddish, the folk language of our people, we bid farewell with "Zei gebencht - Be blessed."

FURTHER INSIGHTS INTO THE BLESSING

The first blessing is for health and sustenance, but, once attained, those gifts can easily be abused and taken for granted, so we conclude the blessing with the word "Yishm'recha - May God protect you" so that you may be forever aware of this gift and treat it with great care.

The second blessing requests that God illuminate our minds with the holy teachings of His Torah, and we conclude that blessing with the word "V'yechunecha - May He cause you to find favor in His eyes" and in the eyes of others. As stated above, a person may possess Torah wisdom, but if he or she is not likeable, he/she will not be able to share these treasures with others and the blessing will remain incomplete.

The third blessing is that God look upon us with compassion, forgive our sins, and grant us shalom - peace. In this blessing, the concluding word is shalom, teaching us that without peace, everything else is worthless and pointless. You can live in a palatial home, but if you do not have peace in your relationships, all your blessings will be for naught. Our Sages teach, "Im ein shalom, ein kloom - if there is no peace, there is nothing." We, the Jewish people, are so aware of the all-importance of shalom that we conclude our most important prayers - the Amidah service and the Kaddish - with a prayer for shalom.

WE ALL HAVE A GOD-GIVEN MISSION

This parashah reminds every individual that he/she has a unique mission in life. It opens with the words, "Count the children of Gershon as well." The phrase "as well" is jarring. What does it mean? The children of Gershon had the responsibility of carrying the curtains and other heavy objects of the Tabernacle. At first glance, one might think that to be charged with such a menial task is to be labeled a schlepper, a mere porter. Therefore, the Torah tells us, "Count them as well," reminding us that the children of Gershon were as important as those who had the responsibility of carrying the Holy Ark itself.

It's not what we do but how we do it that counts. It's the love and dedication that we invest in a task that make all the difference. In the homes of our parents and grandparents, we saw our father and zeide, eminent rabbis, waiting upon and serving all those who crossed their threshold. No task was too menial for them; and of course, our grandmother, of blessed memory, and our mother, may she live and be well, never tired of attending to the needs of others. The knowledge that they were of service, that they were helping others, lent meaning to their every deed. So, when we are challenged with tasks that we may consider being beneath our dignity, let us remember these words from the Torah: "Count the children of Gershon as well." Whether you carry the curtains or the Holy Ark, you count, and in the end, that's the only thing that matters.

The awareness that we are fulfilling our mission empowers and elevates even the most menial task in the service of God.

CUSTOM-MADE BY GOD: IT'S NOT WHAT WE HAVE, BUT WHO WE ARE

This parashah is the longest in the Torah: 176 pesukim (verses). It is the longest because, at the end of the parashah, the offerings that each of the princes brought to the Tabernacle are enumerated separately.

What is puzzling is that although each of the princes brought exactly the same gift, instead of enumerating the components of the first contribution and then stating that the other princes each brought the same gifts, the Torah lists each offering individually. This is all the more difficult to understand since there are no redundancies in the Torah. Every word, every letter, every punctuation mark is carefully measured. The Torah never repeats anything without a deeper purpose; what, then, is the significance of the repetition of "the offering of [the name of the prince]"?[3]

Consider what would happen if a group of friends became engaged at the same time, and after the first was married, the others copied the wedding exactly, ordering exactly the same menu, flowers, bridal gown, music, etc. Such an eventuality would be virtually unheard of in our society for two reasons: First, the bride and groom of the first wedding would be resentful that the other couples were copying them and would object vehemently. Second, the other couples would not wish to copy them because our culture is rooted in competitiveness and therefore we have a need to be better and to be more than the other. The 12 princes of Israel, however, were happy to bring identical gifts because jealousy, resentment, and a desire to outdo others were foreign to them. They understood that it was not the gift, but the manner in which it was offered that made the difference. God Himself gave His seal of approval by enumerating the gifts of each separately, teaching us that what is special about each person is his spiritual essence - the spirit in which he gives rather than the gift itself.

This is a lesson that we would do well to implement. Ours is a generation that often measures a person by that which he possesses rather than by that which he is. The story of the tribal princes comes to remind us that we are each custom made by Hashem, with unique souls and unique missions and that it is not having more but being more that matters. God does not look at our possessions, but rather at the manner and spirit in which we give them away. So, instead of focusing on the physical and the material, let us try to develop our inner selves.

NOTES

1. Numbers 6:23-26.
2. Genesis 12:2.
3. Ibid. 7:17, et al.

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