Torah and our lives can come to explain one another. Relating to the weekly Torah reading enables us to see the world through Jewish eyes. The parsha becomes alive to us.
One of the best parts about experiencing the world through the Jewish calendar is sharing the weekly Torah selection, parshat hashavua. Our sense of belonging to the Jewish people is enhanced when we realize that these words of Torah we’re reading this week are the same texts that are being heard in every synagogue around the world! Well, usually that’s the case. This week, and for the next several weeks to come, we’re not all on the same page.
Here’s why. Last week was Shavuot. That festival which always comes seven weeks after Pesach (Shavuot means weeks) occurred on Friday in Israel. People outside of Israel who celebrate Shavuot for two days extended the holiday through Shabbat, while many liberal Jewish communities had Shavuot just on Friday. As a result, many Jews were reading the Torah reading for the second day of Shavuot this past week while others were reading Naso, the next parsha in the order of weekly readings. This coming week, Israeli Torah readers will read the next reading, B’ha’alotcha, while Jews in the rest of the world will just be getting to Naso. We’ll be out of sync for five weeks, finally being back together when Diaspora Jewish communities read a double parsha to catch up. If you fly to or from Israel these days, depending which direction you go, you might hear the same reading two weeks in a row or miss out on one parsha altogether!
Whether it was last Shabbat or next, a famous passage in Parshat Naso is Numbers 6:23-7: "Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: God bless you and protect you! God deal kindly and graciously with you! God bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace! Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them."
To bless means to offer abundance. The Hebrew root for blessing is B-R-K, as in baruch and bracha. A wonderful teaching relates these words to berecha, which means a pool or a spring. A great Chasidic master, the Seer of Lublin, explained that saying "God bless you!" to someone really means calling on that person to be like a fountain of water, giving life to all.
Our most familiar prayers, berachot, start with the words baruch atah Adonai, "blessed are you God." Familiar, but perplexing. Can we bless God? We’d think it’s the other way around! When we recall the connection to pool or fountain we may come to understand the phrase as meaning that God is the loving, overflowing, abundant source of life and fullness.
When we pay attention we see that we constantly give and receive blessing. Each encounter with another can help us notice. "Be a blessing" was what Abraham was told so long ago. In this week’s reading the blessing concludes with the divine promise "and I will bless them."
Prepared by Allan Lehman, rabbinic director, Brandeis University Hillel
Additional commentaries and text studies on Naso at MyJewishLearning.com.