Friday, June 1, 2012

Birkas Kohanim - Back To Shem

Parashas Nasso: The Priestly Blessing

Rabbi David Katz

In this week’s Torah Portion of Nasso, we come face to face with the Priestly Blessing. As the text states, “May Hashem Bless you and safeguard you. May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” This was the specific request from Hashem to Moses, in regards to Aaron and his sons, as a constant privilege, both in the Temple and for all of time. Today in the absence of the Temple, the Jewish Priests recite the Blessing either daily (depending on the time of community), or in Israel on Sabbath, or outside the Land on Festive occasions. One fascinating time of this recital is on the intermediate days of the three Holidays in the Jewish calendar (Sukkot and Passover); The Priests in numbers that extend into the thousands all recite the Blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount. The famous visual depiction of the Priest is in his hands, as they are held in formation with a space between the middle and ring fingers (like Spock from Star Trek) while a prayer shawl is placed over one’s head and arms and hands; the recital comes from this posture.

In the Hebrew of the Blessing, we find three distinct traces to the original Priesthood (Shem / Malki Tzedek), signaling the Priesthood and its proper roots. The isolated concepts are: “May Hashem Bless you”, “May Hashem be Gracious to you”, and “Establish Peace for you.” The Hebrew for these expressions is: יברכך,ויחנך, שלום – Bless you, Grace you, Peace.

The concept of a Blessing [to you] is a direct hint that we can trace back to Shem and Abraham. When we remember the story of Shem and Abraham, Shem had been offering the Torah for 400 years, and only when Abraham rose up and sought after God, did Shem finally find a candidate to inherit the Priesthood into a Nation of Priests that through the Priesthood, the Torah could be given and eternally given over, all within the laws of the Priesthood. This is the basis of what took place with Shem and Abraham and the nature of their exchange.

  It is often (not correctly) said that Shem sinned with Abraham by not Blessing God first. Yet the Zohar, the main Kabalistic work, explains that what Shem did was most fitting for the occasion, as he Blessed Abraham first. In the context of Shem as High Priest, and in light of the Priestly Blessing, this could not be truer. When we look at the Priestly Blessing in its natural state, it says “May Hashem Bless you.” This expresses quite clearly what Shem bestowed onto Abraham, for Abraham Blessed Shem (innately Priestly) and Shem returned with a Priestly Blessing, “May [Hashem] Bless you” as Shem said, “Blessed is Abraham to God Above.” [Lech Lecha] With the second part of the Blessing, “…And Safeguard you”, is a hint to the Sabbath that the two were observing (as the Priestly Blessing is essential to Sabbath), represented by the Bread and Wine that Shem had brought out to Abraham. (Bread and Wine states Rashi, is a hint of the Priesthood, in reference to the Offerings and Libations in the Temple that would ultimately be at the Temple Mount of which they were standing on at that moment.) In the Midrash, it states that Pre-Sinai Sabbath is considered to be “Kept” as opposed to be “Remembered” as depicted in the 10 Commandments style of language. Thus we find that the Priestly Blessing in its first stanza, is a very accurate depiction of what happened between Shem and Abraham. It is then understood that it was with the Priestly Blessing that Abraham merited the Priesthood from Shem and merited the entire Torah within the laws of the Priesthood.

The Priestly Blessing next goes onto “Be Gracious to you.” The word for Gracious is spelled in its root with the same two letters that compose the name “Noah” which is the combination of a nun and chet (נ ח) in Hebrew. We find a hint of this that Noah found Grace in the eyes of God. Grace is Noah backwards. Yet another deeper angle of this nun and chet combination is when they are seen as initial letters; in this way they stand for “Hidden Wisdom.” Thus Noah and his Grace are synonymous with his knowledge of Hidden Wisdom. It was this Wisdom that he intimately imparted within his Torah over to Shem.

From here we can appreciate the Greatness of what happened between Abraham and Shem. With the giving of the Torah, Laws, Priesthood, etc. over to Abraham, Shem performed this with Hidden Wisdom. Abraham then had firsthand knowledge of how Ancient Kabbalah works, directly from Shem himself, as it was given in the form of Grace, and in the same way that Noah had given over to Shem. It is as if Shem who had seen all that his father Noah had done in the transition from old world to new world, that he sought to do a rectification, one that would ultimately bring the Messianic age of Redemption. Shem had achieved all that Noah did not, in that Noah debased himself thinking he returned the World to the Sabbath of the Garden of Eden. Shem not only rectified the situation, but then gave it over (as Torah means “To give over”) to Abraham in what would be a heritage that would ultimately usher in the Redemption with such entities as Torah, Sabbath, etc. Thus essentially Shem in his Grace, graced Abraham with the Hidden Wisdom of Noah; The essence of Noah would live on spiritually as a “Tzaddik Yesod Olam” - The Righteous, a Foundation of the World. Noah and Shem would exist mutually until the end of Days, as the Talmud says: Shem is one of the four Craftsmen to take part of the Redemption.

The last stanza of the Blessing is that of Shalom/Peace. It is said that the main vessel of a Blessing is Peace. Shem ended his Priestly Blessing to Abraham with just that: Peace. As the two Men stood at The Temple Mount, each saw it a little bit differently. Abraham saw the place as Yirah, or Awesome. Shem then took the opportunity to finalize his [Priestly] Blessing to Abraham and proudly called the Place “Shalom.” This is the source of what we call it today, “Yerushalayim” [made up of Yeru = Yirah (awesome) and Shalom = Shalayim (Peace)] or in English, “Jerusalem.” Thus the Blessing was complete, and the full story of Shem and Abraham, along with all of its significance is embedded within the Priestly Blessing.

If Shem and Abraham are the microcosm of the Messianic Age, Priest-ism’s, and Brotherly Love in the Torah, then each time we read or take part in a Priestly Blessing, we now have an intention to concentrate on each time we experience this. The essence of Shem and Abraham are within the Blessing, and they are the essence of the Torah and what will take part in the End of Days. If Abraham and Malki Tzedek were already somewhat of an anomaly [sitting idly in the midst of the Torah], we now have the means to bring in a seemingly never ending plot of Torah that we can apply through them. We even find an allegorical allusion to Shem and the Noahides at the seal of the Blessing: Let them place my name upon the Children of Israel and I shall Bless them. As the Talmud often says, don’t say “My Name” rather say, “My Shem!” Thus we can read it, “Let them place my “Shem” (In Hebrew this has a Gematria of “Abraham and Sarah -753) upon the “Children of Israel” (Those of a Higher Spiritual Name; i.e. those of Noah, as Noah was the essence of a Higher Spiritual Name), And I shall Bless them. The Midrash says through the Laws of the Priesthood one can learn the Whole Torah. We have now begun to perceive what one can learn through the Priestly Blessing in regards to not only the Revealed dimension of the Torah of Moses, but uncovering the Hidden Wisdom of the Torah of Truth of Shem as well.

Microcosm: "The World is a Big Man and Man is a Small World"

Shabbat Shalom!


Anonymous said...

Rabbi Katz... it is just so amazing how each Truth is so deep... a seed within a seed, within a seed... wow! Will we ever be able to "deplete" all the Truths? NO!! So Wonderful of HaShem to help us to understand these inexhaustible Truths. You, Israel, are truly the Light to the nations... we all NEED to hear of the Truth.

Thank you...

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