Naso contains the most powerful of scriptural blessings, Birkat Kohanim, the Threefold Priestly Benediction. Through a 15-word invocation, Aaron and his descendants are commanded to confer upon the people Israel God's blessing and protection, radiance and grace, favor and peace.
This moving brachah is invoked daily during morning and afternoon services, every Friday evening when we bless our children, and moments before the bride and groom proceed to the chupah.
The late Slonimer Rebbe, Shalom Noach Berezovsky, questioned how blessings can activate potential that individuals cannot affect by or for themselves. His answer: God created an interdependent world — one whose creativity relies on both cause and effect, on blessings that only become manifest when conveyed and received with empathy and love.
Thus, prior to offering the Threefold Benediction, the Kohanim are bidden to thank God who sanctified them through Aaron's holiness "to bless the people Israel with love." Aaron's personal encounters with shortcoming and loss fanned a passionate, yet gentle persistence to reconcile his imperfect fellow creatures who had become estranged, so they, in turn, could reap blessings.
Just such an effective intersection of blessing conveyed and received is illustrated by the tale of Lillian, a French Canadian from a farming village in Ontario. The year was 1922, and Lillian's father decided his 16-year-old daughter should leave school to get a job. With limited education and English as her second language, Lillian undertook job-hunting treks to Windsor and Detroit.
Often, she felt intimidated to even answer a want ad. "Lill, any luck today?" asked her increasingly impatient father. "No, papa, no luck today … , " sighed the ever-more-dispirited young girl.
One day, she passed a "Help Wanted" sign at Detroit's Carhartt Overall Company. Mustering her courage, Lill walked in. "Can I help you?" inquired Margaret, the office manager.
"I like to apply for secretary job," replied Lill in her frightened, broken English. Conveying the girl to a deserted row in the steno pool, Margaret asked her to type one letter.
Her first attempt — five words, four mistakes. Her second — a whole paragraph, but still pretty flawed. Just as she was about to flee, she heard Margaret's voice, "Good work Lill, keep at it."
"Well, if she thinks this is a good effort, maybe I'll stay."
As a result of Margaret's opportune blessing, Lill did stay — for 51 more years, maturing as a woman and as a valued employee.
Lill's competencies might have remained dormant had they not been evoked by the blessing of Margaret's words at just the right moment. To paraphrase the writer Ernest Hemingway, when encouraged to be more than we are, we can become so.
As those called by the Torah to be a "kingdom of priests and a holy people," may we, too, partake of the sanctity of Aaron, lovingly linking together the conveyance of blessings at the moment they most need to be received.
Rabbi Howard A. Addison is the religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: [email protected]