Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Naso

The High Priest would come before the people, raise his arms, split his fingers into three sections, each hand resembling the Hebrew letter “shin” (representing “Shaddai” –one of God’s attributed names). He would then intone the most famous of priestly blessings. “Y’ varechecha Adonai V’yishmerecha…” He said, “May God bless you and keep you. May God’s countenance shine upon you, and may you know God’s grace. May God lift the divine countenance and give you peace.”

I use these words often. I often translate them freely, but I have to confess that I struggle with the text. I wholeheartedly believe that we are blessed every day. That part is easy. Ok, it is not easy, but it is real. Every day, I wake up and do the checklist of aches and pains. “Yup,” I say, “I am still alive! I get another day to try and change the world!”

I am not sure what it means for God’s face to shine. I know that our faces can and should – and we are all made in the divine image. I struggle with grace. Can God give me grace, or do I need to be gracious? I have the same problem with the ending text instructing us that God will “give us” peace. Aren’t we charged with making peace?

Perhaps the text is really less about what God does and more about how we, created in God’s image, are supposed to behave. How many people pray for God’s guidance? How does God do that? Personally, I have no idea how God handles all the people’s prayers. Every time nations go into battle, both sides pray to win. Of course, each side believes the other side is evil – but if they also prayed to God – what does God do with those types of prayers? Or, if the prayers for peace were in earnest, perhaps they never should have fought? I hear in houses of worship prayers and liturgies that exalt one people over another – some demeaning or condemning the other. How can these be words of peace to be heard by a God who is pure love? A lot of folks say they are praying, but isn’t the point of prayer strength of love to overcome disdain, hate, and ego?

Even as I take firm stands on controversial issues, I try not to be overtly partisan. I know – people who disagree with me laugh at this statement, but I refuse to believe that the sanctity of human life and dignity is partisanship. In fact, I have a bumper sticker that reads, “Under Republicans, man oppresses man. Under Democrats, it’s exactly the opposite.” I don’t know the last time I heard a politician say that he or she was a servant. Many are good friends (on both sides of the aisle) – one has nothing to do with the other. I think that we have forgotten that government is about serving people – all people, not just those in power in any given administration. That said, I cannot remain silent.

I cannot see how someone who has never read the Bible or attended church can clear it out with force, use the church and the Bible as props to announce the approved use of force against even peaceful protestors who are in the streets decrying the systemic racism in America that keeps taking Black lives at the hands of rogue officers. Mr. Trump claimed to be the “President of Law and Order (remember President Nixon in 1968 trying to justify the shootings at Kent State University).”

In response to the terrorists who filled the streets of Lansing, Michigan and then stormed the Michigan State House with guns threatening the lives of the Governor and Legislators, this President tweeted, “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” “These are very good people, but they are angry.” He is antithetical of prayer and made a mockery of sacred space and scripture.

Peaceful protestors in cities across this country have been shot at and gassed by officers ordered to violence. I am a Police Chaplain. I know that most officers feel called to serve and protect people. I know people are angry over 400 years of oppression on this land. I know everyone is in danger. I know that the words of this week’s Priestly prayer fall meaningless in the gutters so long as violence continues to surge. If we want the violence to end, we need to fix the problem. If we want peace to happen, we need to fix racism. There is no need for violence when there is no injustice over which to fight. We need leaders who want to be in touch with all of America and not just those who keep him in power – I don’t care which party is in control. No Justice – No Peace. Know Justice – Know Peace: not because God made it happen, but because we are acting in God’s intention: we must make peace real.

Shabbat Shalom.