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Parsha Naso

06/13/2019 11:05:39 PM


Parshas Naso introduces the Pesukim of Birchas Kohanim- a most famous liturgy that the Kohanim transfer from God to the people and that has customarily become a blessing from parent to child.  Made up of three stanzas, Birchas Kohanim opens with the simple words of: “May God bless you and guard you.”  It is hard to understand the direct flow between “bless you” and “guard you,” and this choppy wording is the cause for much discussion and interpretation in the Midrash and Rishonim.  The Netziv suggests that “may God bless you” is a general wish for all types of success and prosperity- health, intelligence, and wealth- and “may God guard you” is the hope that these very gifts do not adversely come to harm us.  In the words of the Netziv: “And guard you"- "A blessing requires guardianship so that it should not, God forbid, be turned to a wrong purpose.  The Torah scholar requires guardianship to save him from pride and bringing the name of the Lord into disrepute, and the like.   The businessman requires guardianship against his wealth becoming a stumbling block to him as in the case of Korah and Naboth, and in its literal sense, against theft and loss.” Much like we believe in “hashgacha pratis,” that God did not just create the world and walk away, but rather that he is constantly “recreating” and shaping every occurrence in the world, we hope that God remains involved with our blessings after they are handed to us and that he orchestrates the right opportunities and circumstances for these blessings and talents to be catalysts for good.  Blessings can also paradoxically become curses, as life shows us that too much potential and power can come to corrupt and serve as formidable challenges and temptations.   

After God completed making Man on the day 6, the Pasuk says “God saw all that He made and it was “tov meod”- very good.”  The Midrash explains the phrase “tov meod” as a reference to the creation of death, the finishing touch on the six days.  R’ Yosef Engel offers a novel interpretation of why the term “tov meod” is appropriate for the solemn and serious concept of death.  We are all endowed with talents, gifts, and capabilities from God that come in all different shapes and sizes.  Identifying with our personal strengths, we each find our vitality and motivation from these particular talents, and thus these gifts are what inspires the “life” inside of us and drives us to succeed.  However, there is always a danger lurking when the dosage of a specific gift is very big or extreme.  Being smart is wonderful, but being too smart is dangerous and potentially destructive to a person’s enjoyment of life and vitality.  Being pretty is wonderful, but being too pretty may remove a lot of meaning from life.  The same is true with affluence, power of speech, or athletic ability.  Perhaps this is the meaning of Chana’s prayer for an “average” child, meaning that she did not wish for a child with one extreme and defining quality.  In this sense, says R’ Engel, “very good” or extremism in character is an element of death, a challenge of living life with the subtleties of death lurking around.  

There is another Midrash about the meaning of “very good” that puts a positive spin on talent and ability.  The Midrash says that the word Meod, very, refers to Adam, man.  Although every facet of creation was good, man was very good.  Simply understood, the source of the Midrash is from the letters that comprise both the word “Adam” and the word “Meod,” being that they share the letters Aleph, Mem, and Daled.  R’ Hutner explains that there is a much deeper lesson contained here than a mere play on words.  By its inherent definition, the word “very” has no specific quantity, as it is rather up to the speaker’s subjective and somewhat arbitrary usage of the word to define its value.  If I were to say “I just went on a very long hike,” does that connote a 2 hour hike, a 2 day hike, or a 2 week hike?  “Very” is an elastic word which is flexible to the context of its usage.  Sharing the same letters and theme, Man also has no limit to his capacity or power of growth!  He too is elastic and expandable to whatever form his heart takes, inexorably growing and growing and yet never disconnecting from his innate definition.  If Man has such incredible potential, this is obviously an internal quality of growth and not an external power of change and reform.  Growth does not come from imitation, persuasion, or any of the other various forms of external influence, but rather from the perpetuation of the “self” when a person takes who he is and further cultivates and develops his character.

Chazal teach us that “God found peace to be the only vessel possible to hold blessings.”  What does it mean to “hold blessings,” and how does peace fill this capacity?  Perhaps holding blessings is the difference of the two Misrashim and the depth of the Netziv’s message of God guarding our blessings, as two people can be graced with the same talents and yet one will find his talents to be empowering and motivating while the other will find them to be constant sources of frustration and futility.  The first was graced with the “vessel of peace” that afforded the right mentality and serenity to use the talents well, while the other was missing the vessel of peace and found his blessings constantly spilling all over the place.

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784