Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 6 February 2021 / 24 Shvat 5781

A Blessing on Your Head (Part 3 of 3)

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 third and final verse that we recite is, “May Hashem turn His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” This last verse is the climax of everything that the blessing is conveying. And the very last word of the blessing encapsulates the entirety of what it is that G-d desires to bestow upon us.

But, at first glance, the need for the third verse seems to be redundant. We have already received a blessing for physicality, and we have already been the recipients of a similar blessing for spirituality — so, what is there left to be blessed for? After all, the physical and the spiritual are the two spheres that we exist within. There are no other realms. Therefore, what is the third verse granting us that we do not already have? The key to understanding the depth and the profound beauty of this blessing lies in the final word of the verse: shalom, peace.

The eminently brilliant eighteenth century Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, in his seminal commentary on the Torah called Ohr haChaim, expounds on why the blessing concludes with peace. Peace is not just the absence of war. That is only one individual facet of a far greater concept. Rather, peace is the harmonious interaction between seemingly opposing dimensions, with each element complementing the other to create perfect symmetry. In the context of our blessing, the word peace represents the synthesis of the material blessing together with the spiritual blessing. Living a spiritually successful life here in this physical world requires an ability to live within the physical, and, at the same time, to elevate the physical. It requires turning the corporeal into a spiritual entity.

Essentially, being blessed with material accomplishments alone will not advance a person’s spiritual being. And, conversely, being blessed only with spiritual achievements will not allow the person to truly experience the utter exhilaration of revealing the spiritual core that exists within every physical element. This is the peace at the conclusion of the blessing. It is a reference to the potential that exists within each and every one of us to blend together two disparate concepts in order to allow us to serve G-d fully. We eagerly await G-d’s blessings and we are certain that we will be able to utilize them to their fullest. But, without the added blessing of shalom we will never succeed in balancing the apparently unbalanceable opposites of spirituality and physicality.

In closing, it is fascinating to note that numbers are extremely significant in Judaism. Actually, each and every seemingly mundane detail has significance in Judaism! Nothing is by chance. Our blessing is comprised of three distinct but unified verses. As was mentioned in the introduction, the first verse is comprised of three words, the second verse has five words and the third verse has seven. The sum of three, five and seven is fifteen. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding numerical value — a somewhat esoteric system known as gematria. Using gematria, the classic method of “spelling” the number fifteen is by combining the letter yud — which equals ten — and the letter heh — which corresponds to the number five. Together, yud and heh spell out one of the most dominant and significant Names of G-d. As we have learned together, within the fifteen words of these three verses are contained every single blessing that a person could possibly desire. And this concept is mirrored by the number of words which comprise the verses.

To teach us: All of the blessings in our lives come from just One Source — Hashem.

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