Posted on March 23, 2011
by Rachel Gutin
There’s this man named, say… Joe Ordinary. Now Joe, a nice Jewish guy, goes home one day and finds a strange package sitting on his doorstep. After checking to make sure there’s no ticking noise, which would indicate a bomb, Joe excitedly opens it. Inside, he finds a lamp, and as must happen in all stories of this type, Joe rubs the lamp. Of course, he gets one bona fide genie, as ordered. And, of course, the genie offers him three wishes. Joe thinks long and hard. “I wish to be one of the richest men in the world,” he finally says. The genie snaps his fingers, and there’s money everywhere. Unfortunately, while our friend Joe is out partying, his house gets robbed, and when he comes back, nothing is left but the lamp. Joe, however, has two more wishes, and this time he’s just a little more clever. “I wish to be one of the richest people in the world with the best security system there is so that no one can take my fortune away,” Joe says this time. Snap! All of the money is back, and this time when Joe comes home from partying, all of the money is right where he left it. Now Joe still has one more wish. He thinks long and hard. He’s rich, he’s safe, but he’s still not happy. Maybe it’s because the government is making him pay taxes and his job is really stressful and his wife is nagging him and…”I want my life to be pleasant,” he wishes. Snap! Then the genie is gone. So Joe’s life is pleasant. Why is he still not happy? For that matter, what does this story about Joe and the genie have to do with this week’s Parsha, Parshat Naso?
In this week’s Torah portion we find many laws. Naso discusses what to do about unfaithful wives, how to deal with impure people, how to deal with thieves, and the laws of the nazir. But that’s all very negative, all about fixing problems and I,(being the optimist I am) decided to focus on something positive instead. Another highlight of this week’s parsha is that of the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly blessings. These are three brachot that Aaron and his sons are instructed to use when they bless the people. How does this relate to the rest of the Parsha, and, for that matter, to my story about Joe and his genie? Perhaps if we were to examine the blessings themselves, the answer would clarify itself. “May God bless you and guard you.” (6:24) Rashi explains that this refers to material goods, and to their protection. If you look at Joe’s story, you can see why both of these are in the same Bracha. After all, what good are your material possessions if they are no longer your possessions? So God, being much smarter than Joe, sees to it that the blessing includes not only possessions, but their security as well. “May God make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (6:25) This bracha is about God being kind to the people, making life pleasant, just as Joe wanted it. All the riches in the world won’t necessarily make a person happy, especially if they have a spouse who nags as much as Joe’s. Now, you might ask why the brachot don’t stop here. After all, we already have riches, security, and a pleasant life. What more do we need? Well, as the third Bracha says, “May God lift up His countenance (face) to you and give you peace.” The first half is a continuation of the second brachah, as Rashi explains that this is God witholding his anger, but what about the second half? Isn’t peace mentioned in the first bracha?
The answer to that is yes and no. There are many different types of peace, as this parsha so nicely illustrates. Naso begins with the counting of the people, a process that begins in Parshat Bamidbar, the previous parsha. Rashbam says the people are counted for the sake of strategic purposes, in case there is a war. One form of peace is that of peace from external enemies. The second topic in Naso is that of dealing with impure people, and the third is that of dealing with criminals. Both can be seen as a harmful influence on the community, just as disunity harms the Jewish community today, and these problems represent therefore a lack of the second kind of peace, that which should exist within a community. The next topic of Parshat Naso is that of a man who thinks his wife has committed adultery. In such a case, as with Joe’s case, there is a lack of peace in the household, a lack of Shalom Bayit. This is yet another type of peace that can exist.
The last topic before the berachot is that of a Nazir, one who abstains from wine, from cutting his hair, and from being near dead bodies in order to become holier. Perhaps he seeks something else as well. He wants to feel more holy, to feel better about himself. One of the things this person is lacking is perhaps the most important peace of all, the peace within oneself, inner peace. If one has peace within, one can allow that peace to radiate outward. For example, maybe if Joe had had inner peace, he would have had a better relationship with his wife. If one does not have peace within, even if he has every other type of peace, he will not be able to appreciate it, and he may even destroy what peace he has. Thus, after showing what happens when one lacks peace, and after showing us what disrupts it, the Torah goes on to give us a blessing, a formula for peace in our lives. If one understands that these berachot are not an independent entity, but rather a culmination of all the cautionary statements so far, then and only then can one fully understand the message of these berachot. Maybe the reason these berachot are to be given by Aaron and his sons connects to the following passage from Pirkei Avot. “Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace…” (Avot: 1:12) We cannot sit back and wait for peace to come. The Brachah is not so much the peace itself as the potential for it. Only by following the preceding instructions and examples in the Parsha and by pursuing peace actively can peace truly be achieved, and if we try our best, then we will bring ourselves that much closer to achieving it. Don’t be like Joe who just sat idly by, wishing and waiting. The only way to get peace is to work at it, and believe me, it’s worth your while.