In this week's parsha, Naso, we receive the words of the ancient priestly blessing, known in Hebrew as Birkat Kohanim.
May God bless you and protect you –
יְבָרֶכְךָ יהוה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
(Yevhārēkh-khā Adhōnāy veyishmerēkhā ...)
May God shine light upon you and be gracious unto you –
יָאֵר יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
("Yāʾēr Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā viḥunnékkā ...)
May God lift up Their face unto you and place within you peace –
יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
("Yissā Adhōnāy pānāw ēlekhā viyāsēm lekhā shālōm.")
There is a custom of parents placing their hands on their children's head and blessing them with these words on Friday evening. I was not personally raised with this practice, but have been endeared to the idea that we have the power to blessing one another. If God is Mekor HaBracha, the Source of Blessing, then we are the vessels, the conduits. For some years, I have invited anyone present at the shabbat table (between candle lighting and the blessing over the wine) regardless of age or relationship, to participate in blessing each other. As part of this moment, I have added a feminist prelude written by Marcia Falk:
"Be who you are — and may you be blessed in all that you are."
This is perhaps the most we can hope to be blessed with, the courage to be ourselves and feel whole. We live in a world full of senseless violence and destruction. Afghanistan, Portland, Syria, Maryland. I offer you this ritual as medicine as you enter Shabbat. Particularly for those of us who are forever re-parenting ourselves, for those of us longing for children, for those in the midst of transition. I invite each of you to imagine for a moment that you are held in the hands of our entire community, and we are blessing you personally: "Be who you are — and may you be blessed in all that you are." [Deep inhale.]
For which the response is, "Ken Yehi Ratzon, May it be so."
May Kol Tzedek continue to be a place where we are each able to grow into the fullest versions of ourselves and connect to an inner point of truth which is itself wholeness.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.