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The Priestly BenedictionNaso274 Sherwin 1


For, Jews and nonJews ali!e hold, the "ost si#ni$icant words o$ %lessin# one can
con&ey to another co"e $ro" this wee!'s (arasha o$ Naso) *e e+tend the" to
each %a%y ,(on enterin# the -o&enant, we o$$er the" to o,r children e&ery Friday
ni#ht, and we address these words to each %ride and #roo" as they stand ,nder the
h,((a .B'"id%ar /)242/01

2ay 3od %less yo, and watch o&er yo,)
2ay 3od shine 4i&ine co,ntenance ,(on yo, and %e #racio,s to yo,)
2ay 3od li$t 4i&ine co,ntenance ,(on yo, and #rant yo, (eace)
5t is a classic constr,ction o$ (oetry, with each line e+(andin# %y e+actly two
words1 the $irst line has three, the second has $i&e, and the third has se&en) The
n,"%er o$ sylla%les increase1 12,14,1/6 and the n,"%er o$ consonants are
res(ecti&ely 17, 28 and 27)
*e re$er to these words as B59:AT :O;AN52 the Priestly Benediction the
%lessin# recited %y Aaron and his descendants $or the Peo(le 5srael in e&ery a#e,
$ro" the 2ish!an in the *ilderness to today)
5n older Jewish ce"eteries, the headstones o$ those (,tati&ely descended $ro"
Aaron are o$ten adorned with a (air o$ hands, arched in a trian#le with $in#ers
noticea%ly a(art) *hen %lessin# the con#re#ation o$ worshi(ers, $irst in the
Te"(le and later in the syna#o#,e, (riests, accordin# to the 9a%%is o$ the Tal",d,
raised their hands and s(read their $in#ers in this (rescri%ed "anner)
The Priestly BenedictionNaso274 Sherwin 2
Peo(le Jewish and nonJewish see these hands and i""ediately lin! the i"a#e
with S(oc! o$$erin# the <,lcan sal,te on Star Tre!) =eonard Ni"oy, the ori#inal
S(oc!, $elt that there sho,ld %e so"e !ind o$ distincti&e #reetin# a"on# <,lcans,
analo#o,s to a handsha!e or a %ow) ;e drew ,(on his own Jewish %ac!#ro,nd)
*hen he was a child, he witness the descendants o$ the :ohani" (artici(ate in a
section o$ the holiday 2,sa$ ser&ice !nown as d,chenen)
The act,al %lessin# is done with %oth ar"s held hori>ontally in $ront, at sho,lder
le&el, with hands to,chin#, to $or" the ;e%rew letter ?shin?, which stands $or the
;e%rew word $or ?Shaddai?, "eanin# ?Protectin# @3odA? .it's the sa"e B on the
"'>,>a and on the t'$ilin0) Ni"oy "odi$ied this #est,re into one hand held ,(ri#ht,
"a!in# it "ore li!e a sal,te)
4,rin# the syna#o#,e ser&ice, the worshi((ers are not s,((osed to loo! at the
:ohani" while the %lessin# is %ein# #i&en so as to $oc,s o,r attention on the
words o$ the (rayer itsel$, not on the :ohani") =i!e "ost Jewish children, yo,n#
=eonard Ni"oy co,ld not contain his c,riosity a%o,t what the :ohani" were
really doin# ,( there in $ront o$ the con#re#ation) ;e writes1 ?The s(ecial "o"ent
when the :ohani" %lessed the asse"%ly "o&ed "e dee(ly, $or it (ossessed a #reat
sense o$ "a#ic and theatricality))) 5 had heard that this indwellin# S(irit o$ 3od
was too (ower$,l, too %ea,ti$,l, too aweso"e $or any "ortal to loo! ,(on and
s,r&i&e, and so 5 o%ediently co&ered "y $ace with "y hands) B,t o$ co,rse, 5 had
to (ee!)? .Fro" his a,to%io#ra(hy, 5 a" S(oc!)0
=eonard saw the :ohani" e+tendin# their $in#ers in the "ystical ?shin? #est,re)
That "a#ical "o"ent re"ained with hi" $or li$e, and was there to draw ,(on
years later, when he in&ented the <,lcan sal,te)
The Priestly BenedictionNaso274 Sherwin C
Accordin# to the 2idrash, the o(en $or"ation o$ the hands is to re"ind those %ein#
%lessed that the Dssence o$ 3od shines thro,#h) The line $ollowin# Priestly
Benediction is &ery clear .B'"id%ar /)2701
Th,s @the :ohani"A will set 2y Dssence on the -hildren o$ 5srael,
so they will !now that 5 a" the one %lessin# the")
*hy do we need to see the i"a#e o$ the :ohani"s' handsE Sho,ldn't we
a,to"atically !now that %lessin#s $ro" 3odE Jewish Tradition wisely ,nderstands
that we need (hysical re"inders o$ s(irit,al intan#encies1 we call these re"inders
Frit,alsG) *e loo! ,(on the c,( o$ wine to re"ind ,s that ti"e is si#ni$icant, the
halla to re"ind ,s that 3od needs o,r hel( to $eed the h,n#ry, the candles to %rin#
li#ht and war"th to the world)

Dach rit,al in o,r Tradition is a re"inder o$ &al,es we sho,ld %ear in "ind6 lest we
lose si#ht o$ those &al,es) On Passo&er we eat "at>a at the Seder and taste
$reedo"6 on Sha&,ot we st,dy Torah as a way to $i+ o,r %ro!en world6 on 9osh
haShana and Ho" :i((,r we see white as a re"inder to Fclean ,( o,r li&esG6 on
S,!!ot we a((reciate the created world as we sit in o,r S,!!a6 and on ;an,!a we
are re"inded to $i#ht $or reli#io,s (l,ralis" as we loo! ,(on the candles o$ the
;an,!iya) One "i#ht (osit that we do not need concrete re"inders o$ the need $or
$reedo", the need to $i+ the world, the need to Fclean ,( o,r actG %oth collecti&ely
and indi&id,ally, to o$$er than!s#i&in#, to a((reciate the s(irit,al herita#e o$
others) The $act is that we do need (hysical re"inders o$ s(irit,al &al,es)
So, too, the (arted $in#ers o$ the :ohani" re"ind ,s that 3od's %lessin#s shine
thro,#h to ,s) Sho,ld those $in#ers close we wo,ld not see 3od's Presence, and
the :ohani" wo,ld %e re"iss in their res(onsi%ility to re"ind ,s that 3od is with
,s) The descendants o$ Aaron ha&e carried this re"inder thro,#h #enerations and
The Priestly BenedictionNaso274 Sherwin 4
cent,ries o$ Jewish li$e in %ad ti"es and #ood, $ro" the destr,ction o$ the Te"(les
in Jer,sale", the -r,sades and the ;oloca,st thro,#h to the re%,ildin# o$ the
Te"(le, the 3olden A#es o$ Dnli#hten"ent and the "odern "iracle o$ 5srael) *e
need re"inders in o,r indi&id,al li&es as well that 3od's Presence shines thro,#h
in (ain and in Ioy, and e&ery "o"ent in %etween)
*e no lon#er o$$er the s(eci$ic hand i"a#e o$ the :ohani", %,t we ,nderstand the
"essa#e only too well) O,r %lessin#s co"e $ro" 3od, howe&er we choose to
de$ine 3od)