How One of Judaism’s Oldest Prayers Is Meant to Turn People into Conduits for Divine Love

This week’s Torah reading of Naso includes what might be Judaism’s oldest prayer (Numbers 6:22-27): the priestly benediction, which for many Jews is still part of the liturgy, and is also incorporated in the blessing parents give children on the Sabbath eve. Consisting of three simple verses, it is to be delivered by the kohanim—the priestly descendants of Aaron—to the people. Yitz Greenberg explains its significance:

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik calls our attention to [a] unique and special requirement for blessing the people. To be valid—to fulfill the mitzvah—the priests must give the blessing with love. This is stated in the preamble blessing the priests recite before uttering the actual words of the blessing itself: “Blessed are you Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people, Israel, with love.” Soloveitchik points out that there is no other blessing on a commandment that specifies that one must do it with love in order for it to be valid.

To understand this requirement of love, we must analyze again the nature of the blessing and who is giving it. . . . The priests have no independent power of bestowing blessings to serve as a kind of amulet for people. And yet, the sense of direct connection to God—the channels [through which Divine blessing flow to mankind]—are “lost” or obscured by all the sensations and experiences of daily life. . . . Evil, death, and injustice also block the connection. As it were, they dam up the flow of love, and distract individuals from penetrating the surface to meet the divine ground in which everything exists.

It takes a tremendous effort for the priest to overcome the self-centeredness, envy, or begrudging of the other that operates in day-to-day life. But if the effort is made and the love “plugged in” then, a finite, flawed human receptacle can pass on and channel the unlimited love of the Infinite God and the delight which the Lord feels in every display of life’s capacities and human goodness. Thus, the liturgical apparatus strengthens the forces of life and the vitality of life in the world.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Hadar

More about: Hebrew Bible, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Priesthood

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship