The Priestly Blessing

One of the more well-known passages in the Torah is what is known as the priestly blessing. These lines - found in the portion Naso - were recited by the kohanim (priests) every day as part of the service in the Temple. It is recited by them now in synagogues in the Diaspora on festival mornings and in Israel every shabbat and in Jerusalem every day. This prayer is also recited by parents to their children at the shabbat dinner dinner table. Its words are brief yet beautiful: "May God bless you and guard you, May God shine his countenance upon you and be gracious to you, May God lift his countenance upon you and grant you peace." 

The last phrase in the Hebrew is intriguing. "Grant you peace" can be literally translated from the Hebrew as "put peace to you." Like the Hebrew it is awkward and unusual. How do you put peace on someone? Granting peace makes more sense. But putting peace has significant meaning. Since this prayer was recited every day, it was meant to offer relief or blessing to people every day. Every day we deal with stress and tension and worries. It is rare that we wake up feeling as if we have no cares in the world. Sometimes we feel that it would be great if someone could just take our troubles away. That search for relief may be what this prayer is discussing. God should put peace on our shoulders so that we feel the stress melt away.

Peace could also refer to our relationships with others, or relationships between countries. Sometimes countries that are at war, or that are on guard, become entrenched in their opinion of the other. In such a case (e.g India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, North and South Korea, Israel and the Palestinians, etc.) it might take an unusual effort to move the two sides in order to make strides toward peace. In that way peace may seem to be put upon those countries or entities.

Such may have happened last week when President Obama spoke at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. It was a most unusual gesture but one that was necessary to help move the Arab world. It was necessary to help recognize who the president is and to hear from him directly. It helped begin the process of breaking down the very strong anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. Though he may have said things that could have disturbed some Jews and Moslems, it was necessary to begin the process of discussion and peacemaking. 

Sometimes we need to feel put upon in order to make peace. May we feel that peace speedily in our day.