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May God Bless You

This week’s Parsha, Parshat Naso, contains one of the most beautiful and familiar passages in the entire Torah. It is the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27). “And God spoke to Moses saying, speak to Aaron and his sons and say, ‘this is how you will bless the children of Israel:’

יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ יְיָ֖ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ

May God bless you and keep you

יָאֵ֨ר יְיָ֧ ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ

May the Light of God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

יִשָּׂ֨א יְיָ֤ ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם

May God smile upon you, and give you peace.

When I was kid, the Rabbi in our synagogue would close every Shabbat Service with this blessing. He would raise his arms up, and in a booming voice he would invoke God’s blessing upon his congregation. Indeed, the Priestly Blessing is pretty much the “Go To” blessing for both Jewish and Christian clergy. It’s so beautiful and succinct that it’s hard to find more poignant words which touch the soul.

As a child, I thought my Rabbi had a direct connection to God. As an adult, however, I began to question: what exactly IS God’s blessing?” Is it good health? We ask for good health in the Amidah prayer every day. Is it happiness? God doesn’t make someone happy. Is it for wealth? The old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness” is true. Is it long life? Does that mean if someone dies at a young age that God didn’t love them or bless them? What does it mean when we say “May God bless you and keep you?” What is “God’s Blessing?”

I am not so arrogant as to say that I have the answer to this profound question. I will say however, that if we look a bit deeper, we might gain some insight into at least one possibility. As I have said many times, to me, Hebrew is the most beautiful language. We call it Lashon HaKodesh, the Holy tongue because according to our tradition, each word contains the spiritual essence of that which it describes. That’s not to belittle the hundreds of other languages spoken around the world. According to our tradition there is spiritual energy contained in every Hebrew letter and in every word.

Grammatically speaking, Hebrew is a beautifully structured language. Most words are built off a 3-letter root, called a Shoresh (שרש). The Shoresh gives an indication of the nature of the word but, by changing the grammatical construction or the vowels, it creates different words but with related meanings. So, for example, the Hebrew word Lomed (לּוּמֶד) means “Learn.” When we change the grammatical structure and vowels, we get Lilamed (לְלַמֶד) which means “teach” and Talmid (תָלְמִיד) is “a student.” The Shoresh ל.מ.ד. connects words that have to do with learning.

So, what is the root of “Blessing?” In Hebrew, the word for blessing is Beracha (בְּרָכָה). The Shoresh is בּ.ר.כ.. This is the same Shoresh for the word Beraycha (בְּרֵיכָה) which means a “pool of water.” The connection may not be immediately obvious, but if we look deeper, we’ll see that water is indeed the ultimate blessing from God. It is the one blessing that is given to everyone. Money cannot be a blessing from God because it would mean that those who are not rich, are not blessed and of course, that is not the case. We say that children are a blessing and, as a proud father, I could not agree more. But that implies that those who do not have children are not blessed. If they have chosen not to have children, then who’s to say if they are blessed or not? I could go on and on. As the old saying goes: “One person’s blessing, is another person’s curse.” So, what then is the blessing from God? Life is a gift, a blessing from God, but what makes life possible? Water!

For the purposes of this conversation, let’s look at water a bit differently. Not as the water in the Ocean or a river or lake. Not even as rain or water which we use for agriculture. While these are all essential and miraculous, let’s look at the personal water which is the Blessing from God. The water that makes life possible.

I’ve made mention of this before, but let’s look more broadly. Here is what your body is made up of:

Your Kidneys are 87% Water.

Your Heart is 79% Water.

Your Brain is 75% Water.

Your Liver is 86% Water

Your Skin is 64% Water.

Your Blood is 83% Water.

Your Bones are 22% Water.

Your Muscles are 75% Water.

Your Lungs are 80% Water.

Your Joints are 83% Water.

Your Lymph is 94% Water.

Talk about a בְּרָכָה. With our bodies consisting of 60-70% water, we are all big pools of water contained in a sack of skin in the shape of a human. You’ve probably heard that a person can live months without food, but without water, a person will generally die after just three or four days because water is essential for our bodies to function properly.

A few weeks ago, in Parshat Bechukotai, we read about the blessings that God would bring upon the Jewish people if we followed the Mitzvot; rain in their season (of course the blessing begins with water), and plentiful produce, cattle, and all good things. The text then went on to tell of all the curses that would befall us if we did not follow the Mitzvot. They’re really terrible. God “will appoint terror over you, even consumption and fever, that shall make your eyes to fail, and your soul to languish; and you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it... and you shall be smitten before your enemies; they that hate you shall rule over you; and you will flee when none pursues you… I will send the beast of the field among you, which will rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate.” (Lev. 26:16-22) And so on and so forth… There are a lot of curses, and they’re all really bad.

My Rabbi used to say that “Reward and Punishment” was the greatest bastardization of religion there is. He said, “Is the Creator of the Universe so petty that He needs us to follow the Mitzvot and that if we don’t, we’ll be punished?” Rather, he said, these passages are meant more to scare the Israelites into following the Mitzvot more than an actual punishment for not observing them. He said it all comes down to Free Will. If we choose to live by Jewish values and observe mitzvot, then we reveal Light and bring goodness into the world. If we do not live by Jewish values and observe Mitzvot, then we don’t reveal the Light. Pretty simple… It all comes down to Free Will and the choices we make. God doesn’t send blessing or curse because we do or do not observe Mitzvot. We bring positivity or negativity into our lives through our actions.

So, if the true blessing is the בְּרֵיכָה our relationship to water, then what would happen if that blessing was taken away? Unlike the threat of a curse as we saw in Bechukotai, what would happen if the blessing of water was actually taken away?

In the book, “Blue Gold” by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, they describe an event that took place in 1906. At that time, a man by the name of Pablo Valencia set out across the Sonoran Desert from Mexico to California in search of Gold. He became lost but was eventually rescued. Pablo Valencia went seven days in the Desert without water. His rescuers documented what happened. At first, his saliva became thick, and a lump seemed to form in his throat. His tongue swelled so large that it squeezed past his jaw. His throat was so swollen that breathing became difficult and created a terrifying sense of drowning. His face felt full due to the shrinking of his skin and he began to hallucinate. His eyelids cracked and his eyeballs began to cry tears of blood. When Pablo Valencia was found his skin was like purplish gray leather, scratched but without a trace of blood. His lips had disappeared as if amputated. His nose withered to half its length, and his eyes were trapped in a wink-less stare.

This was not the result of a threat to scare people from venturing into the desert. This was not Free Will. This is what happens when the blessing of water is removed, and it happens to every living being that loses the blessing of water… the Blessing of God. With this awareness, we get a clearer understanding of the sacred words we read in this week’s Parsha:

יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ יְיָ֖ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ

May God bless you and keep you

יָאֵ֨ר יְיָ֧ ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ

May the Light of God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

יִשָּׂ֨א יְיָ֤ ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם

May God smile upon you, and give you peace.

If we understand water as the ultimate blessing from God, then we should do everything in our power to protect it. We should do everything in our power not to waste it. We should do everything in our power to keep it clean. If water is the ultimate blessing from God, then we should do everything in our power to save it.


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