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The Priestly Blessing

Israel Defense Forces women

“‘“The LORD bless you
    and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.”’” — Numbers 6:24–25

The Torah portion for this week is Naso, from Numbers 4:21–7:89, along with special Torah readings for Shavuot, Exodus 19:1–20:23 and Deuteronomy 14:22–16:17.

This week’s Torah reading reveals the words of the special “priestly blessing,” a blessing that the priests would give to the children of Israel. Even today, Jews who can trace their lineage back to the house of Aaron will recite this blessing in synagogues around the world on holidays, and in Israel, every week on the Sabbath.

The words are as follows: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Judaism teaches that a person must emulate his Creator. The Jewish sages teach, “Greet every man with a pleasant expression of countenance.” Just as we ask God to turn His face toward us and shine upon us, we have a duty to turn our face with a pleasant expression toward every human being we meet. We are to greet everyone with a smile, a greeting, genuine interest, and warmth. In turn, the sages teach, God will turn toward us and shine His face ever more brightly.

There is a moving true story told by Yaffa Eliach in “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust” that illustrates this principle beautifully. Near the town of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), there was a renowned rabbi who would take a stroll every morning. He took the advice of the Sages very seriously and was careful to greet every man, woman, and child he met with a pleasant “Good morning!” Over the years, the rabbi became acquainted with many of the town’s people. One of these people was a Polish man of German descent. Every morning the rabbi would say, “Good morning, Herr Mueller!”, and the man would reply, “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner!”

When World War II began, the rabbi’s walk stopped and Herr Mueller donned an S.S. uniform and disappeared from the streets. One day, the rabbi found himself in one of the infamous lines of the Holocaust – waiting to be pointed right toward life, or sent left to his death. The frail rabbi was sure to be sent left. But when he looked up to the decision-maker, it was none other than Herr Mueller! “Good morning, Herr Mueller,” the rabbi instinctively said. “Good morning, Herr Rabbiner,” Herr Mueller couldn’t help but respond. And against all odds, the rabbi was sent to the right and lived.

Years later the rabbi, now in his 80s, would say: “This is the power of a good-morning greeting. A man must always greet his fellow man.”

Let our faces shine upon others and treat them with grace and peace.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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