Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 30 January 2021 / 17 Shvat 5781

A Blessing on Your Head (Part 2)

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)

The second verse reads, “May Hashem illuminate His Countenance upon you and be gracious to you.” In general, our Sages teach us that light is a metaphor for the Torah. The Midrash on our verse follows that approach and teaches that G-d’s illumination is referring to the “light of the Torah.” It is clear that this verse refers to the spiritual blessings, which is why it follows the previous verse which focused on the physical. Our Sages teach us as a general rule that in our religious endeavors we must always strive to move upwards in spirituality, and not to lessen our enthusiasm. Accordingly, the verses are moving in an upward trajectory, and therefore the second verse represents a concept more spiritual than the first.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his indomitably eloquent style, explains that it is through the teachings of the Torah that G-d spreads His light throughout the world and runs His world. The more we expose ourselves to the brilliant and dazzling spiritual aura that is the Torah, the more we perceive that G-d controls the world. And our ability to understand that all of our material blessings derive only from Him is also greater.

And, just as in the previous verse, the Midrash spells out in distinct and lucid language: “G-d should illuminate His Countenance upon you — your eyes and your heart should be enlightened through the Torah and He should grant you children who live according to the Torah.”

The verse ends with the request that the accumulation of Torah wisdom “be gracious to you.” The commentaries have a fascinating disagreement about to whom the “you” in the verse refers. Nachmanides understands that the verse is a plea that we find grace and favor in the Eyes of G-d.However, the simple understanding of the verse seems to suggest that it refers to the person who has accumulated Torah knowledge. The verse teaches us that it is not enough to be a brilliant and erudite scholar. Together with scholarship, one needs to find favor in the eyes of others in order to have the maximum impact on the community and for the community.

Toward the end of his life, the saintly Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933) attempted to have a series of laws being legislated in the Polish Senate abrogated. The underlying purpose of these laws was the Senate’s desire to undermine and finally destroy the educational and communal infrastructure of Polish Jewry. In fact, the Chofetz Chaim was so disturbed by the impact the legislation would have that he undertook a journey from his hometown of Radin all the way to Warsaw (approximately 400 kilometers!), despite the fact that he was more than ninety years old and extremely frail. Thus, together with the Rebbes of the three largest Chassidic sects in Poland, the Chofetz Chaim traveled to Warsaw, where he was granted an audience with the Polish Prime Minister. The Chofetz Chaim began to speak in impassioned and heartfelt Yiddish about the dangers that the legislation presented for the Jewish community. As the interpreter began to translate the Chofetz Chaim’s words into Polish, the Prime Minister stopped him and told him that the passionate words of the venerable Rabbi require no translation. “The words of this holy man pierce the heart. No one can listen to him and remain unmoved.” And, with that, the vicious and destructive legislation was dropped.

To be continued…

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