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Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
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Home » Naso

Naso: The Priestly Blessings of Growth

Submitted by on May 12, 2013 – 5:38 amNo Comment | 3,413 views

Three Parts

A while back, someone in my congregation noticed that the Kohen, during the priestly blessings, repeated the cantor’s errors, when echoing his intonations. He inquired with the Kohen, who replied that he hadn’t noticed. He explained that when offering the blessing he tries to empty his mind and make himself a perfect conduit for the blessing that flows through him, from G-d to the people.

What lofty sentiment. What a noble way to bless the people and thereby serve the interest of G-d. Yet I ask, what is the nature of this powerful blessing and how might we translate such intense spiritual concentration into a deepening of our relationship with G-d? Of course we realize that the blessings are primarily focused on material goods and bounty, but this essay assumes that to every sacred blessing there is a spiritual undertone. The spiritualism of the intense blessing I heard that day confirmed for me that there is more to it than meets the eye and I set out to seek a deeper understanding.

I found that the Priestly Blessings are divided into three parts:[1]

May the Lord bless you and watch over you.
May the Lord shine His countenance to you and favor you.
May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace
.” [2]

The priest stands before us, and with three blessings nourishes our relationship with G-d. When you think about it, these three verses represent the curve of our spiritual climb. First we serve G-d then we know G-d and finally we rise to the pinnacle of devotion to G-d.

In the first verse, “G-d blesses and watches over us,” He is the patron, the benefactor and protector, and we are the beneficiaries. In the second verse we rise to a level of kinship with G-d. He shines His countenance to us rather than upon us from above. In the third verse, we are cast in a lofty position. G-d raises His countenance to [see] us. When He seeks to bless us, He doesn’t look down to find us in creation. Rather, He looks up from creation and into Himself because we merge completely with G-d.

The Curve

The full spectrum of our relationship with G-d comprises the three levels of this curve. First as subjects, then as partners and finally in full unification with G-d. When we embark on our Jewish experience we are G-d’s subjects. He commands and we obey. When we delve into the kavanah or inner meaning of the mitzvahs we realize that we play a critical, even cosmic role in creation. G-d created the world so that the Torah would be practiced in it, thus when we study and practice the Torah, we fulfill the mandate and purpose of creation. It is as if G-d allows us, after a fashion, to be His partner. He creates and we give His creation meaning.

The first level is accessed through the practice of mitzvah. The second level is accessed through the study of Torah. The third and final level- that of utter unification, is accessed through self-sacrifice. Risking our lives for G-d’s sake. When we risk our life for G-d, we embrace our seminal bond with G-d, whereby life is worthless without Him. With that we ascend the ladder of spirituality and tap into the endless well of inspiration that is the soul, realizing its true depth and untold power to merge with G-d.

Thought And Speech

G-d created the world orally; He spoke the world into existence. Souls, however, emerge from a higher order – that of Divine thought. Thoughts are more internal than words. We think for ourselves, we speak for others. Words are external, thoughts are internal.

The world was spoken into existence because the Divine energies that G-d invested into creation were of a lower, somewhat external, quality. Souls emerge from Divine thought because the soul stems from a higher, deeper and more rarified dimension of G-dliness.

Just as we tell others what we thought to ourselves, so did G-d, in creation, speak or reveal the ideas that He first conceived for Himself. Since souls emerge from the dimension of Divine thought, the soul transcends the world. It is a manifestation of Divine conception, whereas the world is a manifestation of Divine speech.

The Midrash teaches that before creating the world, G-d consulted with righteous souls, which is understood to mean that He visualized the delight that He would derive from the worship of these souls.[3] The soul was present in G-d’s thought, in the ethereal realm of Divine conception, before G-d created the physical world. It was only because G-d visualized the pleasure that He would receive from the soul’s descent to this world that He proceeded with the project of creation. Thus the soul is the purpose of creation, the reason that G-d created the world.

Yet, the soul resides in a human body within the physical world. When G-d views the soul as it functions within the body, it is seen as an object of the world. When G-d views the soul as it is for itself, it is seen as G-d’s partner as it were. One that was present and involved when G-d conceived of the world.[4]


The soul emerges from Divine thought, but it doesn’t originate there. The soul’s origin is wrapped up with G-d’s essence, it is merely projected through Divine thought into creation. This is akin to the bond between father and child. The seminal point of contact between a father and child lies within the father’s essence even though the child later emerges as a separate being. The soul emerges as a separate entity, but in origin, it is utterly bound with G-d.

When we access this level of soulfulness though self-sacrifice, we merge completely with G-d and rise above the Divine energy invested in creation. Rather than being facets of creation or even partners in the project of creation, we merge completely and become part of the creator. Thus, G-d looks up from creation and seeks us within Himself – the third of the Priestly blessings.

The Priestly Blessing, empowers us to make this three step climb. In the first blessing, G-d protects and sustains us. In the second blessing, G-d treats us as partners, who have the power to work with Him on his project and give meaning to His creation. In the third stage, when we have reached the pinnacle of devotion and perfected our connection with G-d, we reach a state that transcends the universe completely and is completely at one with G-d. This is the highest blessing and the arc of the curve.[5]


[1] According to many (Avudreham) this is the meaning of the introduction to the Priestly Blessings, “Our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers bless us with the blessing that is tripled in the Torah.” According to others (Shaloh) the tripling refers to our tradition to chant the Parsha three times, twice in Hebrew and once in Aramaic. This is why many prayer books place the comma after the word Torah rather than after the word tripled.

[2] Numbers 6: 23-25.

[3] Midrash Rabbah Bereshit, 8:7. See also Sefer Hamamarim, 5603, Rosh Hashanah ch. 3.

[4] This section is based on Tanya chapter two.

[5] This essay is based on Keli Yakar’s commentary to Numbers 6: 23-25 and Torah Ohr p. 36.

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