Individual Blessings by Rabbi Yaakov Blau

(2018/5778)

Parashat Naso records the Birkat Kohanim (6:22-27), the exact words that the Kohanim are supposed to use to bless the Jewish people. The nature of this blessing is somewhat ambiguous. The first verse simply states “Yevarechecha Hashem VeYishmerecha,” “Hashem will bless you and protect you.” Rashi (6:24 s.v. Yevarechecha) explains that this first Pasuk means that Hashem should watch over our money. He claims that the verse should be understood as blessing our assets and that the “watching over” entails Hashem preventing thieves from stealing our possessions. He continues that only HaKadosh Baruch Hu can watch over a gift once it has been given.

The Netziv, in his commentary Ha’Amek Davar, has a broader understanding of both parts of the Pasuk. He interprets the blessing as one that manifests uniquely for different individuals. For some, the blessing is for their continued success in Torah learning, for others it is monetary (hopefully both can be true for the same person). While he offers only those two examples, he ostensibly means to include any of a person’s endeavors. He explains the second half of the Pasuk, that Hashem should watch over us, in a twofold manner. Firstly, like Rashi's understanding, he explains that the second half is blessing that we should not lose what was was promised in the first half of the Pasuk. However, based on his expansive understanding of that first half, he broadens the second half as well. A person could potentially forget his learning or lose his money; divine aid is needed to prevent that from happening. The Netziv takes the blessing one step further, and claims that, at times, the blessing itself can turn into a negative. Success in learning can lead to arrogance (such as, Korach and Navot). The Kohanim are blessing us that the good things bestowed upon us should not change our character in a negative fashion.

I believe that we can extend the Netziv's very individualistic approach to the final Pasuk of the blessing as well as well. Pasuk 26 states that Hashem should grant us peace, and the Netziv explains that without peace, all the other blessings are worthless. Perhaps, in a slightly different vein, we can argue that the “peace” that we are requesting is for people to be at peace with themselves and where they are in life. The Netziv's approach very much underscores the importance of viewing each person as an individual with unique talents and needs. Hashem's blessings are tailored to fit each person's particular situation, and we should strive to deal with each other in a similar fashion. At the same time, may we all have the inner resolve to appreciate our own individuality, and not constantly measure ourselves against others in an unhealthy manner.

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