Naso – The Priestly Blessing

Nechama Leibowitz considered the issue of G-d’s instruction to Aaron and his sons that they bless the people in the particular way we hear in Shule and bless our children on Erev Shabbat. The section begins “Thus you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them….” followed by the three facetted blessing. It ends “and they shall put My name upon the children of Israel and I will bless them”. Rashbam explained that the priests were not commanded to bless the people as one individual blesses another, but to invoke the Divine blessing on them, and G-d promised to respond to their prayer that He bless and guard Israel.


It was not the function of the priests which was all important. Nechama Leibowitz quoted from Abravanel who suggested there was a difference in the implications of the verb “to bless” in this context. He concluded that the priests were merely invoking the Divine blessing on Israel. R’ SR Hirsch ruled out the priestly caste having any special powers of blessing. He wrote that the priest who blesses is just an instrument, a medium through which the benediction is expressed. He wrote that the priests recite the blessing only after being summoned by the congregation with the chazzan acting as prompter. The congregation has invoked the Divine blessing through the vocal medium of the priests.


Nechama Leibowitz asked why we need the priests at all. She then cited numerous examples of G-d’s symbolic cooperation with man, for example, “a new heart will I give you and a new spirit…” She concluded that the human assistance that G-d requires is implied in the order to the priests “they shall put My name on the Children of Israel” ,just as the ground is prepared by the farmer for rain.


The exact formula is laid down in the Torah, with the blessing containing three parts, each one containing two verbs and the name of G-d in the middle. There is an ascending order, starting with man’s material needs, then spiritual needs, crowning them with the blessing of peace. This is reflected in the language and rhythm, with the first phrase consisting of three words, the second, of five words, and the third of seven words.  

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