Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Naso

How tired are we of people holding their hands up, witnessing their prayer to God while in the fervor of worship, who then get in their cars and start screaming and honking their horns at anyone who drives by a different standard than the one that suits the screamer’s quickest path to the next destination? You know, the people who purport to represent a God of universal love – except for everyone that person doesn’t like or understand or with whom he/she doesn’t agree. Or how about the member of clergy arrested and convicted for committing a crime but asks for leniency because he/she represents God. Often, holiness looks great in the moment of adulation but doesn’t reflect as well in the aftermath.

Way back in Leviticus, we read, “You shall be holy because God is holy.” We also read, “Love your neighbor as yourself – because God says so.” The text never said, “Act holy” or “Look holy.” The text says, “Be holy!” Being holy depends on being loving – really loving, and not playing at loving. The command to love another as one loves oneself seems easy, but the presumption that we love ourselves is a huge and hugely rebuttable one.

Loving oneself requires a sense of inner security. Love roots in safety and, well, rootedness. To be secure with ourselves, we have to feel good enough about who we are and what we do that we don’t feel the need to feel threatened by people who see the world through differing lenses. We don’t need to position ourselves over others by disproving their legitimacy. Being secure allows us to love who we are – fully knowing that there exists so much out there beyond our capacity to know – which allows us to love other people as they are. To the best of my knowledge, no one has the market cornered on what God is. Loving another means that you accept that even where you disagree, you are both holy.

Understanding the depth of love is a key element to understanding this week’s text. The first half of Numbers 6 details the rules regarding the Nazirite; the one who takes vows of abstinence as a sign of commitment to God. The Torah provides that one can take a vow to set oneself aside from society by not drinking wine (some say all alcohol), cutting hair, or being in the near proximity of the dead.

Our sages are split on the value of taking this vow. Some argue that the vow speaks to atonement for the transgressions of the past. Some speak of the vow as a commitment not to transgress. Still, others question why one would take such a vow in the first place, especially since the text offers provisions as to one who lapses and has to re-vow. One such concern argues that one might take the Nazirite vow for appearances – to appear more holy.

Immediately following this text, we read that Moses instructs Aaron and his children (also priests) on how to use the “Priestly Benediction” to bless the people. Implicit in the charge to the priests is the presumption that the people appreciate being blessed and that the priests appreciate the power and authority to ask for God’s blessings.

Do people understand blessings? Is the Priest offering the prayer from the heart or from the status of being a priest? Do the people believe that the words that the Priest offers are for their soul and not just words that get said at specific times at specific events?

In this world where “religionists” grab the headlines, playing out their faith condemning everyone with whom they don’t agree, we need to return to the belief that blessing matters; that love matters; that people matter – even from opposite ends of the spectrum. It seems to me that the way in which we alienate each other can’t possibly bring healing to the world. Where one wins – another loses.

So, the blessing Moses teaches to Aaron is for the priests, but the Torah tells us that we are a kingdom of priests – each of us is a priest. So let’s practice – offer this blessing to anyone privately or verbally – but mean it – “May God Bless You and hold you in light and grace – and bring peace into your world.” It will feel weird at first, but it feels good to ask for another to be blessed. It is game-changing. It truly lets us feel that we are blessed every day.

Shabbat Shalom.