Adonai will bless and protect you
Adonai will deal kindly and graciously with you.
Adonai will bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace. (Num 6:24-26)
God tells Moses to tell Aaron and his sons (the Priests) to raise their hands and speak those words specifically and bless the people. Known as the Priestly blessing, these simple phrases appear in this week’s parasha Naso, and also at Shabbat tables around the world when they’re used to bless the children on Friday nights. Good thing, too. The practice of blessing your children each and every week that you gather around a table does tend to sweep away the most recent annoyance that has cropped up between you and your kids.
This weekend our second child is graduating from college. It’s a landmark weekend, to be sure, as any parent of a college graduate will tell you. Yes, she’s still on our insurance, and yes, we’re still paying her car insurance, and yes, so is her sister on both counts. Yet, this transition is different from when she went off to school four years ago. Like her sister, she won’t come home for breaks, because there are none. There are no built-in times to reconnect any more. Any trips home are because of taking “vacation days” or because she wants to. And, one always hopes, for the holidays. And the fairly safe, stand-by conversation starter, “How are classes going?” has been taken away.
Bekhor Shor (12th c France) said that this priestly blessing was a gift, not a response to an offering, that “sometimes a gift is given with good intentions, yet in a way that makes everyone but the recipient upset. Here, however, everyone will be delighted with the gift [of the blessing]”. Another commentator said that “blessing means increasing the good in one’s life.” (Gersonides, 14th c France, also a philosopher.) So true. That’s exactly what we wish for our loved ones when we bless them. It’s interesting that these words used to be said exclusively by the Priests, the Cohanim, in the wilderness and during the times of the Temple; we’ve all appropriated them now. Maybe we all need more blessings in our lives, that without the regular rituals of offerings and priesthoods, we have to find our blessings more intentionally.
Although Rashbam (another 12th c France….France was quite the hotbed of Talmudic scholars!) said that one shouldn’t make up a blessing of your own, in truth, we wrote our own blessing for our children when they were very young. We hadn’t read Rashbam; what did we know? We recite it in Hebrew and English, and inevitably, since after all these years, we still haven’t memorized it, if we miss a word, the kids correct us. Truthfully, they wait for it. (And truthfully, maybe we help them out, just to see them roll their eyes and laugh at each other.) These days, I sort of wish we had incorporated both ours and the traditional one, because I think as they’ve gotten older, the very specific pleas for protection, kindness and favor seem to mean more as they’re further and further out on the end of that one, long-letting-go that is raising a child.
So, for this weekend I’ll share both blessings with not only my newly minted college graduate, but her one-year-out sister, and their younger brother.
“May you grow to seek God in the world. Meet and accept challenges. Find teachers of value and inspiration. Make the world a better, cleaner, happier place. And influence others for good and beauty. May it be God’s will….May God bless you and protect you. May God’s face be turned to you and deal graciously with you. May God bestow favor and grant you peace.”
Congratulations and hearty Mazal Tov to all the other graduates’ parents out there.