At my weekly fire on the beach earlier tonight, some friends asked me to set an intention and give a blessing. I said, ‘May we hold onto the fear and ego that protects us and let go of the fear and ego that could destroy us, instead turning the negativity to positivity. ’ That captures the spirit of this dvar in a nutshell.
King Solomon writes in Mishlei that whatever a person pictures in their mind has the power to happen.1 Our power to draw down blessings is tied into the faith that colors our beings as vessels to receive. The law of attraction is simple yet profound— positive thoughts bring positivity into a person’s life. And since the opposite is also true, it’s that much more important to paint the pictures that rest in our subconscious with positive brush strokes. It’s wild to think that only about 3% of our brain processes are conscious (our thoughts, ideas, understanding, and our decisions), while the other 97% is used for subconscious and automatic functions. Our habits and beliefs also fall under the 97%, which kabbalistically is tied to our Nefesh HaBehemit (our Animal soul), and illustrates how powerful our subconscious mind is.
The 3% also corresponds to the three intellectual powers of Chochmah, Binah, and Daat, translated as wisdom, understanding and knowledge, which are an acronym for the word ChaBaD. The ChaBaD of the Nefesh Hasichlit (the intellectual soul) is the conscious intermediary soul, less subjective than the Nefesh HaBehemit and not as transcendent as the Nefesh HaElokit (Godly soul). In this way, the Nefesh Hasichlit is the bridge between the Nefesh HaElokit (which desires self-nullification towards a complete union with Hashem) and the Nefesh HaBehemit (which desires only its own self-gratification).
We need to use the intellect, the Nefesh Hasichlit, to color our subconscious towards good, because even when our intentions in our conscious thoughts and ideas are for the best, our subconscious can sabotage them. The reason for this is because our subconscious doesn’t actually work with reason or logic, but with images and emotions. So, if we understand in a given situation that there is nothing to be afraid of, but our subconscious mind pulls from past images stored in our subconscious mind, we will feel afraid nevertheless. Since the part of our brain in the back that our subconscious mind sits in takes up more than the part in the front that colors our consciousness, we need to be that much more careful to replace negative imagery with positivity. This is what will balance our conscious and subconscious and bring us closer to a space of tranquility, which brings blessings.
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ יָאֵ֨ר ה’ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ ,יִשָּׂ֨א ה’ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם.
May God bless you and keep watch over you. May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace. May God direct His providence toward you and grant you peace.2
This week’s Parashah, Naso, teaches us about blessings. My favorite of all blessings is this verse above. I say it every Friday night to my two sons (דובי & משי) as I place my hands on their heads. I meditate on the meaning of the words and my love for them as I kiss their foreheads.
This blessing is also known as the ברכת כהנים/Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, which has been performed since Biblical times. It is said to this day during the musaf tefillah (“additional” prayer) on Shabbat and Holidays. The Levi’im in the congregation wash the hands of the Kohanim, and then the chazzan (cantor) leads them through the blessing in a call and response. As we read, “Let them place my name upon the Children of Israel, and I shall bless them.” (וְשָׂמ֥וּ אֶת־שְׁמִ֖י עַל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַאֲנִ֖י אֲבָרְכֵֽם)3 It’s a beautiful ritual, and the power within it is beyond comprehension.
This blessing is also known as Nesi’at Kapayim, the “lifting of the hands”. The first time this was done was the day that the Tabernacle was inaugurated in the desert. The priests spread out their fingers, and the Divine light flowed through them, into the sanctuary and onto the Children of Israel. It’s important to note that what we learn through all these verses is that the blessings come from Hashem, but when we are together as a community, a minyan (group of ten or more men), Hashem’s blessings come through the Kohanim to the congregation. The Kohanim and the community cover themselves in their tallit so as not to see each other’s faces. It is a halacha (religious law) that it is forbidden to look at the Kohanim’s faces while they are blessing, because, again, the blessings are not from the Kohanim, but from Hashem, whose presence comes into the community through the Kohanim.
Hashem tells Moshe, “Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying, this is how you must bless the Jewish people, emor lahem (‘say to them’).” Scripture’s use of the word “emor” evokes the Ten Sayings with which the world was created.4 In Likutei Halachot, Reb Natan of Breslov explains that when Hashem created the world, His blessings were placed within His “Sayings”. So that when God instructed Aharon and his sons to recite the Birkat Kohanim, He said, “Say to them” — extend those blessings that were already put into the world in potential so that they can become actual.5
Even in Gan Eden where there were all sorts of plants, there wasn’t rainfall until Adam prayed for it. As it was Adam’s responsibility to ask Hashem for blessings to fall, it’s the same with us. Often the clouds get dark, and it seems as though the blessings have halted, but it is just then that when we pray, the blessings will pour and the sky will clear. We have to continue to pray to turn any pesha (sin, פשע) into shefa (flow of goodness, שפע), and this is done when we pray to Hashem from the heart with love, asking for what we may not even deserve, much like a child to their parent.
God is concealed and revealed within Love
In last week’s Dvar, we touched on our interconnectedness and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s story that illustrates how important it is to pray for your friend in need, to bless them so that you do not become an obstacle for their potential to receive blessings. The three blessings of the Birkat Kohanim break down into three nekudot (points of Godliness): the first, “May God bless you” (יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ)6 corresponds to receiving a point of Godliness from a tzaddik, a righteous teacher. The hope is that the one being blessed will receive the Godliness that comes through a tzaddik’s neshama (Godly soul), brought down into his teachings/writings. In chassidut, the tzaddik is the channel for all blessings, since all bounty flows through the sefirah of Yesod (which corresponds to the tzaddik.) Receiving the second blessing, “May God shine his countenance upon you” (יָאֵ֨ר ה’ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ)7 corresponds to receiving your friends’ points of Godliness. Every person has a special nekudah of light within them that another does not, each is unique and tied to the person’s neshama. This is why it is Jewish tradition to primarily learn with a chevruta (a partner), because each person’s understanding of the Torah is different, and it is only through each other that we can come to the ultimate Truth. The second blessing corresponds to your friend, since whatever love develops between people reveals more of God’s countenance in the world. The third blessing, “May Hashem lift His favorable countenance to you, and establish peace for you” (יִשָּׂ֨א ה’ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם)8 corresponds to receiving the benefit of one’s own nekudah of Godliness, which, when developed properly, brings inner peace.9
We read at the end of the Shemoneh Esre (silent prayer), Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) and in mourners Kaddish: “May the One Who makes peace on His high heavens make peace upon us and upon all of Israel, Amen.” (עוֹשה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרומָיו הוּא יַעֲשה שָׁלום עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן). We are begging Hashem to place peace upon us, so we can be faithfully and unquestionably satisfied with whatever we are granted. It is in this space of satiation that we can be at peace and without feelings of anger, jealousy and resentment. As we read in Pirkei Avot,10 where the Maharal explains that Ben Zoma describes a ‘rich person’ in terms of their personality and faith as one who is ‘happy with their lot’. People think that material wealth brings security, but often it brings the opposite. It is actually an inner feeling of gratitude and faith that what we are granted is what we actually need, the feeling that because of that we actually lack for nothing. It’s the appreciation of what one has, and an enjoyment of the tranquil feeling that comes from feeling faithful and appreciative. The person in this mindset is a person who is truly rich. When we tap into this realization of peace, as it’s written in the pasuk (verse), Hashem makes peace on High, by rebutting the angel’s argument that we may not deserve Hashem’s favor. In this way, we can read the verse as, “May the One Who makes peace on His high – by quieting the angels – do so by first placing peace upon us and upon all of Israel.”11 As we see through these pesukim, our blessings are tied to our acceptance and love of what we receive. When we appreciate our lot, it establishes inner peace that draws further blessings into the vessel of our being, since our vessel is primed properly for receiving.
The blessing that precedes the Birkat Kohanim reads, “and He commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.” This blessing is mentioned in the Gemara where Chazal say that you should always choose someone who is generous to say the blessings over wine for Kiddush, Havdalah, etc.12 The Maharsha stresses the importance and significance of love throughout these blessings. As it’s written in Mishlei, “The generous man will be blessed.”13 In Hebrew, יְבָרֶכְךָ֥/Yevarech can be read as “will be blessed” or “he will bless”. So, the blessing is dependent on the feelings and intentions of the one who blesses. This is seen in the earlier parshiot in which Hashem continuously stresses that the sacrifices be brought by those who are “generous of heart”.
Rashi quotes the Midrash pointing out that, in the verse, the word אמור/emor is written with the full letter ו/vav. This teaches that Moshe stressed to the Kohanim, “You are not to bless them with haste and confusion but with attention and wholeheartedness”. The Zohar goes a step further and says, “If a Kohen does not love the people or they do not love him, he should not bless them.” The Hebrew word for love, אהבה/ahava (ah-ha-va), has the root word of hav which means ‘to give’. Love is synonymous with giving. As Nas says, “How do you expect to get love, if you don’t show none?”14 And as The Beatles say, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”15 For a true blessing to be given, it must be given with love.
Toldot Aharon points out that we are not allowed to add to the Birkat Kohanim, which consists of fifteen words. The numerical value of the letters באהבה/b’ahava, “with love”, (א/aleph=1, ב/bet=2, ה/heh=5) equals fifteen. A few verses later in our parashah, we read, “and they will place My Name on Israel and I will bless them.”16 The word באהבה/b’ahava also hides the Ineffable Name, the Tetragrammaton, within it. Using kabbalistic gematria (numerology), if you take אהבה/ahava and multiply it by two (corresponding to the ב/bet), you get a sum equal to the sum of the Ineffable Name. That Name, which we now refer to only as ‘Hashem’ or ‘Adonai’ was only ever spoken aloud by the Kohanim in the Temple. From all this we learn that God is always concealed and revealed within love. Blessings must contain love so that they “contain” God and hold the power of turning potential into spiritualized reality.
I was just learning chapter seven of Tanya in the mountains overlooking Santa Barbara with my friend Shlome over the Shavuot holiday, and the Alter Rebbe reminded us of a very powerful teaching from Chazal in the Talmud: “In the place where ba’alei teshuva (penitents) stand, even the perfectly righteous cannot stand.”17 This comes to remind us that repentance with great love, the sort that if someone is at the literal bottom and puts their full heart, faith, and love into their own redemption at the mercy of Hashem, that depth of yearning and hope, the Alter Rebbe teaches that one’s “intentional sins become like merits” for the person, since it is through those sins that the person eventually came to great love.
This is the secret to replacing negative experiences and images in our minds with positive ones. It’s a shift in thought, speech and deed, and the new habits that they bring can change a person from blocking their blessings to bringing in a flow of blessings that comes from alignment and a shift in being and perspective.18 This is why it’s written, “And you shall love the Lord your G‑d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”19 Because we are a mirror, and made in the image of Hashem, the more we connect and love our Source, the more our source showers the love and blessings down upon us.
Peace is the vessel that contains every Blessing
The last word of the last blessing of the Birkat Kohanim is shalom, “peace”. Peace is the vessel that contains every blessing. True shalom is one of the hardest things to achieve. It’s a culmination of perfecting so many aspects within oneself, especially faith and positive perspective.
Hashem calls the entire Jewish people “a kingdom of priests”, which is why the ritual isn’t only practiced by Kohanim but by a parent to their child as well. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would encourage all Jews to grant blessings to their peers at every possible occasion, emphasizing how each one of us has the power to bless.
When my mom passed away, I started a project in her memory called, Don’t Block Your Blessings. The objective is to inspire others to focus on the good, get out of their own way, and make themselves vessels for overflowing blessings. I continuously ask people from all over the world to share their perspectives on navigating the ups and downs of life, and to share what I have dubbed, “Cheat Codes to Happiness.” I want us to inspire each other with the wisdom we’ve picked up in our journeys, how we’ve learned to feel blessed and give blessings.
Rabbi Peretz, who some may know from Venice, CA, participated, and what he shared articulated the essence of the project and this parsha perfectly:
A blessing means to draw something into your life, it means your potential to reality needs a channel and that channel is called blessings where we reveal what’s there. Lots of people share the idea that a little bit of light takes away a lot of darkness, but they don’t talk about the reason why. The reason why light overcomes darkness is not because it vanquishes darkness, it’s because now you can actually see where to go, you can make the right decisions, you can put yourself in the right opportunities to succeed. The problem in this world is that we don’t really know what exactly to do, we try our best, we learn from others, but we don’t always know what to do. That’s where blessing comes in. The earliest place in Judaism that mentions blessings is where it says that, “Those who bless shall be blessed,” and that means that when you keep the light for yourself, you can’t see the big picture, when you look for blessings and goodness just for yourself, it’s also very difficult, “don’t block your blessings” means, become somebody who gives blessings to other people, be someone who shares light. And when we all know where to go, we’ll find that we can never block each other’s blessings, so we certainly shouldn’t block our own.20
This parashah ties into the Light of Infinite and the Don’t Block Your Blessings projects perfectly. Its focus is also on blessing with love. If you focus on others as you would yourself, then you will love yourself more and, by virtue of that, become love for others.
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Notes & Sources
- Proverbs 23:7
- Numbers 6:26
- Ibid 6:27
- Avot 5:1
- Likutei Halachot I. p. 342
- Numbers 6:24
- Ibid 6:25
- Numbers 6:26
- Likutei Halachot I, p. 189a-378-190a
- Pirkei Avot chapter 4
- Chatam Sofer al HaTorah p. 25 ד״ה ישא א
- Talmud Sotah p. 39a
- Mishlei 22:9
- “Store Run”, song by Nas
- “The End”, song by The Beatles
- Numbers 6:27
- Talmud Brachot 34b
- Tanya, Chapter 4, by Rabbi Schneur Zalman
- Deuteronomy 6:5
- Rabbi Peretz video for Don’t Block Your Blessing