The portion this week begins with the command ‘nas et-rosh bnai gershon’: ‘lift up the heads of the sons of Gershon’. This lifting up is of course translated as taking a census, a counting or reckoning of the numbers of men ready to be used in the transportation of the Mishkan and the holy articles. As in all the things of God, everything is exact and designed. Israel was called to act as a whole but each had a part to play, individually and as the different tribes too.
In the middle of all this and the instructions concerning the Nazirite vow, comes the Aaronic Blessing. Its placing here tells us something about how we are to function and live – it sits at the heart of the healthy and functioning community.
Before the Priest could recite the blessing itself, there was, as recorded for us in Talmud (Sotah 39a), the usual blessing “Blessed art Thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe”… followed by… “who has commanded us to bless His people Israel WITH LOVE”. Although not recorded in the written Torah in this context, it’s clear that the addition of love was seen as essential for this blessing to be effectual. The Priests had to actually look at the people they were blessing; they had to take their calling seriously if they were to be the vehicle of that blessing, which meant that they also had to love Israel.
The relationship had to work both ways: the people had to love both God and the leader transmitting the blessing. Love is revealed to be the fundamental basis upon which the community functions and can only function if the blessing is to be effective. God’s blessing is always there but has to be reached out for by calling on His name with love and receiving it with love. The leader needs to be the channel of love through which the blessing flows.
Numbers 6:27: “In this way they are to put my name on the people of Isra’el, so that I will bless them.” – we are His and He writes His name on us as owner. God does not just casually bless. No other nation in the world has a covenant with the Lord, just Israel. We can expect blessings, but this is predicated upon our obedience and living relationship of love between us and Him, and between us and His leaders (and from them to us).
It’s interesting to note that the singular pronoun is used throughout this blessing, which would seem to undermine the community focus. But this is no error. Any community is made up of individuals who together form the whole nation or community. The blessing is individual but is received only as part of the group. If the individuals aren’t being blessed, the unity of the nation, community and whole suffers too.
God formed us to be a community created and built in the wilderness, designed to endure. He knows each one of us by name and allocates tasks to do in the community He is building, blessing accordingly. If the Mishkan held the presence of God, then so too the community is the dwelling place of God. If each person did the job allocated and allotted to them, remaining in His blessing of love, then the on-going dwelling of the Lord in the midst would continue.
The community has no meaning if God is not at the centre of it. The synagogue is the community of God. We have become His people. By functioning in the appointed order we build a place for Him to dwell in our midst and be our focus. Independence is not a godly character trait; what He desires of us is interdependence, the ability to create a whole unified community that operates as one.
Read 1 Peter 2:9-12: if God is at the heart of our community and we demonstrate that unity, what will be the impact of such a lifestyle? Those from the nations will see our love and faith, our good works, the Mitzvot; indeed chapter 2 verse 12 talks about the gentiles, the nations around us, glorifying God due to our conduct.
Each part of the blessing describes how the community is to function. It starts with “Adonai bless you” and ends with “grant you peace”. The whole focus of this blessing is that we have peace – not the “absence of war” type of peace, but true shalom: wholeness, completeness, a deep spiritual satisfaction based upon our relationship with Him.
Do you have that peace? We Jews are meant to experience the love of God; that is His blessing to us. The community of God is His special people – one God, one people. To be blessed is to show that you are a part of this people. But we must always ensure that the community runs according to His ways and rules, His Torah; to do anything else is to risk disintegration and dissolution. Let us together build a place, a community where He is worshipped and made central to everything we do and are. Let us love Him and receive His love and so function as the true community and nation of Israel.