Friday, June 2, 2017

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Naso 5777 – The Fourth Fold (Revised and Revisited 5759)

Since 1993 I’ve been attending the annual Hava Nashira songleaders workshop held at the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. For most of those years, I was usually unable to post a new Random Musing during that week. Cell Phone coverage was spotty, at best, and wifi was non-existent. I, myself, was responsible for helping to install the first semi-cam-wide Wifi back in 2010, the last summer I also worked all summer in camp in addition to coming to Hava Nashira. Things have gradually improved over time, and this is the first year I feel confident enough that I can actually get my musing done and posted. That being said, there’s no a lot of free time (and not much sleep) during the 5 days of the conference (and this year, a 6th day added for those who chose to come early and celebrate Shavuot with this amazing community. So I’m once again recycling an old musing for this parsha, but unlike the last time this parasha fell during the time of Hava Nashira, this time I’m able to add to fresh ideas and content, so let’s call it a revised and revisited musing, originally from 5759 (1999.)

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Naso 5777 – The Fourth Fold (Revised and Revisited 5759)

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ. יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּֽךָּ. יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.  וְשָׂמוּ אֶת ֹשְמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַאֲנִי אֲבָרְכֵם..

Y'varech'cha Ad"nai v'yishmarecha Yaeir Ad"nai panav eilecha v'chunecha Yisa Ad"nai panav eilecha, vayaseim l'cha shalom.

May G”d bless you and keep you. May G”d’s light shine upon you, and may G”d be gracious to you. May you feel G”d’s presence within you always, and may you find peace.

Ah, but wait. There’s more text there than is transliterated above. In the Ashkenazi rite, there is a fourth line that gets left off the Priestly benediction. (It is included in the Sephardi rite.)

וְשָׂמוּ אֶת ֹשְמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַאֲנִי אֲבָרְכֵם

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarchem.

Yes, omitting it helps preserve the beautiful poetic structure of the three-fold benediction. And even modern leadership and management pundits sing the virtues of the triad in writing and speaking.

But in dropping this line from this blessing in the Ashkenazi rite, I think perhaps we are losing something.

"They shall put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (The JPS version says "link My name" which, in context, also seems to fit.)

Some might say the fourth line merely restates the obvious. In each of the previous three lines, we are told that G"d is in charge, and it is by G"d's grace that good things are bestowed upon us. So why remind us that we need to link G"d's name with our people?

But that's exactly the point. We DO need to be reminded. Sometimes we don't make the connection-we take G"d for granted. And we forget the special nature of our connection with G"d - our holy covenant. Just as we are taught to give thanks after eating, when our bellies are full and it’s too easy to feel sated and not remember to say thanks (as opposed to when we are feeling hungry, it’s easier to think about asking G”d to relieve that feeling.)

The threefold benediction has been bandied about a lot, especially in recent times, and especially by liberal Jews. (The Orthodox reserve this benediction for special times.) And why not? It’s a great bit of text, suitable for use in a variety of settings.

In liberal Jewish settings, the rabbis and other ordainees seem to have become the inheritors of the power the Torah grants to the priests of Aaron to recite this blessing on behalf of the people. It's been used at all sorts of occasions, and in all sorts of contexts. It is also widely in use in Christian worship. It's my personal belief, too, that sometimes it's a bit overused-simply because it is such a powerful piece of poetry and prayer. Really, really good blessings like this one-do they lose their power and majesty when overused? Can one really overuse a prayer or blessing? Some would say not. I think we can, and I believe we are the worse for it, despite good intentions (remember Nadav and Avihu?) I find it a very powerful and moving blessing, elegant in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity, in the manner of Mozart. (Better, surely, than Mozart, for it's author outshines Mozart in every way!) But I digress.

I think the priestly benediction has lost the connection to its original purpose, because of the omission of the fourth line. It has become a prayer where we, as a community, or as individuals, ask and pray for G"d's blessing. In it's original form, I think perhaps it was a telling or an instruction, and covenantal. G"d will bless you and keep you. G"d will make G”d's face to shine on you. G"d will bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and -I will bless them.

It's not popular these days to say anything that might seem exclusivist. (That may be another reason the fourth line has been dropped from the blessing.) But this is the true and full meaning of the blessing, in my view. G"d will keep us, because G"d has a special covenant with us, and will bless the people Israel. (That doesn't mean G"d won't bless or keep anybody else. Our covenant doesn't necessarily make us better than others. If anything, it is an obligation and a burden.) This fourth line is our reminder of who we are, and that in all our prayers, we must remember G"d's covenant with us. It's hard, in the aftermath of the Shoah, in the aftermath of almost two millennia of persecution and misfortune, and in light of modernity, to sometimes remember that we, Israel, are a covenanted people. It thus being so hard, we all the more need to now include this fourth line with our use of the threefold benediction (I think all my past English teachers would shudder at that sentence...but I digress again.) When so much around  us makes us doubt G"d, makes us doubt the reality and continuance of Israel's covenant with G"d, we need to be reminded.

Next time you say or hear this powerful blessing, trying adding that extra line:

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarchem. Thus, they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

That small addition might go a long way to address the effects of possible overuse of the priestly benediction, saving it from losing its tremendous power through familiarity and routine.(Yes, an argument can be made in the reverse – that constant use and repetition are an important component of Jewish prayer – and there’s no such thing as overuse. If that is truly the case, why do we tire so easily of certain musical settings of prayers and have to change up the melodies every so often? Yes, the keva remains fixed. But without the kavannah, what’s the point? Here’s an opportunity to actually change the keva, in a way. We’re not really changing it – we’re restoring a piece of it that has been omitted.

My prayer for you and yours this Shabbat: link G"d's name with the people of Israel, your people, so that you remember G"d's covenant with them-with you.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 2017 (portions ©1999, 2004, 2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Nasso 5775 - West-Tzorah-Side Story
Naso 5773 - Guilt. Self. It.
Naso 5772 - Keeping Me On My Toes II
Naso 5771 - The Nazarite Conundrum
Nasso 5770 - Cherubic Puzzles
Naso 5768 - G"d's Roadies
Naso 5767 (Redux 5759) - The Fourth Fold
Naso 5765-Northeast Gaza-Side Story
Naso 5763--Lemon Pledge
Naso 5759-The Fourth Fold
Naso 5760-Bitter Waters
Naso 5761-Keeping Me On My Toes
Naso 5762-Wondrous Names (Haftarah Naso from Judges)

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