Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 23 January 2021 / 10 Shvat 5781

A Blessing on Your Head (Part 1)

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“May Hashem bless you and guard you. May Hashem illuminate His Countenance upon you and be gracious to you. May Hashem turn His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

These three verses are the words with which G-d commanded Aharon and his descendants to bless the Jewish nation (see Numbers 6:23). Seeing as they are the verses that G-d uses as His means to bestow His favor upon us, it stands to reason that they contain everything we could possibly want. These are also the verses that many Jewish parents recite when blessing their children on Friday nights. Undoubtedly, every parent wants only the very best for their child.

Let us begin with the first verse, “May Hashem bless you and guard you.” Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, explains that this is a blessing for material success. All wealth comes from only one source — G-d.

There is a delightful story that is told about a destitute Jew living in Jerusalem. He and his wife were extremely worried because Pesach was almost upon them and they still didn’t have money for the most basic necessities. Dejected, he went to the Western Wall to pray. His heart opened and he cried out to G-d in complete submission. A wealthy American standing nearby noticed how this impoverished Jew was praying with such heartfelt sincerity and trustingly reaching out to G-d for help. When the person finished his prayer, the American introduced himself, telling him that he had never been so touched before. And that he wanted to help him. On the spot, he wrote a check that would cover all Pesach expenses — with plenty left over to keep him going for several months afterwards. When the poor Jew told his friends what had transpired, about his most unanticipated salvation, they asked him whether he had taken the rich American’s address for future reference. The needy Jew looked at them in astonishment and said, “Why do I need his address? I didn’t ask him for money. I asked G-d, and G-d gave me whatever I needed through this person. When I am in need again, I know exactly which address to go to!”

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, one of the greatest Torah leaders in Europe in the nineteenth century and head of the legendary Velozhin Yeshiva, writes that the language of the blessing is deliberately left undefined because each person has their own set of needs and desires. Accordingly, the blessing uses a “generic” form: “May Hashem bless you.” And because the blessing refers to material matters, it ends with the request that G-d guard us. As Rashi points out, it is clear that the first blessing is referring to material wealth and prosperity, because physical affluence must be safeguarded vigilantly so that it is not stolen or lost. Not so in the case of spiritual wealth. Spiritual wealth requires no physical protection. In the timeless words of the Midrash, “May G-d bless you with riches and children. And may He protect you from thieves”.

To be continued…

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