D’var Torah: Parshat Naso – Why We Need Blessings Today More Than Ever
God said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And Cain said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then God said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9-10)
This is one of the most important pieces of Torah to me. This event happens immediately after creation when you would think people are naturally innocent and good. There are no religions. Just two brothers – the first brothers. And one of them murders the other. There are so many interpretations and lessons to learn. Today, I feel that Cain had not been taught that he was his brother’s keeper. He didn’t know we have a responsibility for one another. This is one of Judaism’s fundamental teachings for the world.
George Floyd’s blood is calling out to God and humanity from the grave. Will we learn the lesson that we humanity has had to learn and relearn from the time of Cain?
There is not one answer to how we end racism or any other evil in the world. One mindset that Judaism teaches is that our role is to be a blessing to the world. As Abraham heads out on his journey from his birthplace to change the world, God says to him,
“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
Let us all heed the call and bless each other, be a blessing and feel the blessings of others this Shabbat. Blessings are more than just words. They are expressions of our deepest hopes for ourselves, each other and the world. These expressions are intended to prompt action.
This week, we read from Parshat Naso. In it, we learn of the priestly blessings that Jews still recite today on many occasions and especially when parents bless their children on Friday nights. The words of this blessing reveal that as a society we have failed because all too often there are murders like the murder of George Floyd. Read the blessing (Numbers 6:24-26):
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ (ס)
The LORD bless you and protect you!
יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃ (ס)
The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!
יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃ (ס)
The LORD bestow the Lord’s favor upon you and grant you peace!
When we ask for God’s blessing, I believe we are asking God to help us achieve these outcomes. Sometimes we have to do most of the work; sometimes we must leave some things God’s hands.
The first blessing is the blessing of protection – of your physical safety. We all want to be and feel safe. Parents see this as a prime directive of parenting. We are part of a society that did not protect George Floyd. To me, perhaps the most chilling part of his murder was that he called out to his dead mother as he was dying. As a parent, that is soul-crushing.
The second blessing is one that comes mostly from God. We are asking for God’s grace or favor. We don’t earn this favor; we just receive it. Although many of us contribute to our own success, the vast majority of us were given great advantages in life that we received and didn’t earn. I will only speak for myself, but I did nothing to earn the right to be born a white male in 20th century America to loving parents and a middle class life. I have done nothing wrong by being given this. However, I must take this grace that God gave me and use it to improve the lives of others, to remember that I am my brother’s keeper.
The last blessing is for shalom, for peace. Peace can exist on multiple levels: in our homes, communities, between countries and for our entire world. The root of the word shalom means whole or complete. George Floyd had neither peace nor a whole or complete life. Our mission is to make the world whole and to complete creation with God. God created an unfinished world, a world where Cain did not know he was responsible for his brother. Our job is to live our lives watching out for each other and to be role models – a blessing to each other on how to care one for the other. That is how we bring peace and wholeness to our world.
This is why it is so important tonight to bless. Yes, use the words of our traditional blessings and add your own. Express to those you love and those you barely know your blessings and your hopes and dreams for each other and for the world. We all have an opportunity to bring some form of shalom – peace – to the memory of George Floyd and to take our place as keepers of all our sisters and brothers and to act as blessings to the world.