Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Naso

Come on, ask me. Ask me how I am. You know the answer. I am … blessed each day. I am. Yes, I have my share of tsuris (Yiddish for problems). I have faced some huge life challenges. Still, every day, no matter what is happening or where I am, I make note that I am blessed … every day.
People tell me that it sounds like a “line;” a signature greeting intended to be cute or catch attention. Well, I do hope I catch people’s attention, and not because I am trying to be cute. I am blessed every day. Some people say that they are lucky. I do not know what luck is (except in games of chance, perhaps), but finding one’s self breathing is not a matter of luck. Having someone to love is not a matter of luck. As I served as Chaplain for three years in a nursing home while in seminary, I learned that even as people diminish in health, they cling to the blessings that they still can experience. Most telling were the people who came as volunteers, who swore that they could not live like this, until they had to, and clung to life as long as they felt its value. Do you realize how we take these blessings for granted? My tradition teaches that miracles abound. “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”This week’s Torah portion speaks to us about blessings through the progression of three major themes.

First, we read of the ritual of Sotah. If a man suspects his wife is having an affair (but has no evidence), he brings her to the priest. The priest messes up her hair, rips open her dress, gathers holy water and sand from the Temple floor into an earthen vessel. He writes a curse on parchment and then swirls the parchment in the water and dirt mixture. The woman takes the vessel, waves it before the altar and drinks. If her belly swells and her thigh falls off, she is guilty. Not once in Jewish literature was this ritual ever used. Some will argue that it was purely allegory. Others will argue that men knew nothing would happen and they would be shamed. Still, others understood that this ritual protected women from jealous and abusive husbands. The bottom line is that this episode demonstrates that lacking or breaching faith with sacred partners (to deceive or falsely accuse) destroys relationships.

The second theme involves the Nazirite. One who feels a special need to commune with God takes a special vow to avoid alcohol, to make sure that his/her hair stays uncut, and to avoid being anywhere near a dead person (including one’s family). One has to wonder how these vows make one specifically holy; even Torah begs this question. At the end of one’s term of service, he/she has to bring a sin offering to the altar. The debate amongst sages as to what the “sin” was, ranges from “leaving the vow” and returning to secular life to having “taken the vow” and leaving the “real world to begin with. Either way, in reading this portion, we have moved from the folly of breaching trust with a sacred partner into the struggle to find faith. Whether it was wrong to take the vow or break the vow, either way, one has to struggle with what to do with journeying to the sacred.

The third piece is the Priestly Benediction, the prayer that the Kohen (high priest) would say on behalf of all the people. The blessing is not for a select few; it is for everyone. “God will bless you and keep you. God’s “face” will shine for you as God grants you grace. God will face you and (eye to eye) give you peace. The last phrase is, for me, the most critical. Peace is an intentional act, the result of looking each other eye to eye, as representatives of the whole world, understanding that Peace depends on our grace and our blessing. Faith takes work. We spend too much time taking life and each other for granted. The folly of Sotah is the story of our lives as we dismiss each other, ignoring the blessings that should flow from each relationship. The journey into faith requires a change in how we see the world and how we want it to see us. Part of that journey is the admission that something was missing. If we pay attention we find, at some point along the journey, that blessings abound, we just never saw them. Yes, each of us knows trauma and the world is a mess. We get to choose how we define our lives, though. We can if we wish, live in the darkness. Or, if we choose, we can take the next step into tomorrow. We cannot change what we dislike in the world unless we focus on what we desperately want to see in this world. The blessing is not conditional. The blessing is absolute. We have to choose to live it. Shabbat Shalom.