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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Naso

Finding The Face Of G-d

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Though our Sedra of Naso is the longest single Sedra of the year – 176 p’sukim – a world of beauty & meaning is packed into just 3 little verses in the center of the Sedra: the Y’Varech’cha, or Birkat Kohanim. One of Judaism’s oldest blessings – it is featured prominently in the Dead Sea scrolls on display at the Israel Museum – it is recited on numerous occasions, by Kohanim & others, perhaps more than any other bracha.

But just what exactly does it mean?

The first section - Y’Varech’cha Hashem V’Yishm’recha – asks G-d to bless us with material success – which we acknowledge comes from Hashem & not from our own efforts - & that He should guard that wealth so that no one will take it away from us.

The 2nd section – Ya’er Hashem Panav Elecha Vi'y'chuneka – asks the Almighty to grant us Torah wisdom ("Ya'er" is related to the word "Or" – light, a metaphor for wisdom, as in "Torah Ora"), & that people should find favor with both our teachings & with us. (In other words, our wisdom should not cause us to become so arrogant that we are resented).

But the 3rd section - Yisa Hashem Panav Elecha V’Yasem L’Cha Shalom – is a bit more difficult to understand. The literal meaning, "May G-d lift up His face to you & grant you peace" requires some explanation.

I suggest that the meaning is this: When a person does not conduct himself properly, when he acts in a way that he, himself, knows is wrong, he is embarrassed & cannot face others. But when he does the right thing, he is proud of himself & can look others right in the eye. He can even hold his head up high before G-d. This, in turn, evokes a similar response from Hashem, who looks at him with pride & satisfaction. At that point, when his gaze meets that of his Maker, he is at Peace, for there is no greater peace than to feel that we are in consonance with the will of G-d.

And so these are the particular blessings we should have in mind when saying or hearing this bracha: Wealth, security, wisdom, humility, & a sense serenity that comes from knowing that we are doing the right thing.

"Shavuot" is generally translated as "weeks," as in 7 weeks after Chag HaPesach. But the word "Shavuot" can also means "vows," or "promises." The greatest promise we can make is the one we make to ourselves, that we will function as a Tzelem Elokim, a true reflection of Hashem’s qualities. If we do that, we will bring peace not only to ourselves, but to the entire world.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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