Singular or Plural? by Rabbi Joel Grossman


Parashat Naso contains the famous Birkat Kohanim with which the Kohanim bless Bnei Yisrael. Curiously, although this Berachah was recited in the Beit HaMikdash and in the Beit HaKeneset for the entire congregation, it is phrased in the singular rather than plural. Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, in his book Something to Say, explains that it is not always possible or prudent to extend the same blessing to everyone uniformly. For the farmer, rain today may be a blessing, but for the travelers or someone who had plans for outdoor activity it would be an annoyance. Only Hashem knows precisely what blessing is appropriate for each person. He therefore instructed the Kohanim to bless the people in the singular such that each individual should receive the form of blessing that is most appropriate for him.

A similar idea is expressed in the Torah reading of the first day of Shavuot, which contains the Aseret HaDibrot. The Tenth Commandment is “Lo Tachmod Eishet Rei’echa,” “Don't desire your friend's wife” (Shemot 20:14). How can Hashem give this command? Can one really control what he thinks about? The Ibn Ezra answers this question based on a parable. He compares it to a peasant who saw the princess when she passed through his village. The peasant didn't desire her since he knew that she was out of his league and totally off-limits to him. We should feel that way whenever we see something which belongs to someone else. We must realize that Hashem is correct in His decision to give this item to the person. Therefore, we should be able to control our jealousy.

Someone once came to the Chafeitz Chaim with a complaint about a problem he was having in his personal life. The Chafietz Chaim explained to him that LeAtid LaVo, in the future, Hashem is going to put a bag on a table in front of people with a list of problems on the outside of each bag. Each person, given the option, will choose his own bag of problems. Just like Hashem is just regarding punishment, so too He is correct about blessing. Therefore, the Kohanim bless each person in the singular form to receive what will be a blessing to him.

May the blessing of peace mentioned in Birkat Kohanim be fulfilled for each of us on both an individual level and collectively. As the Mishnah in Masechet Uktzin teaches, there is no greater blessing than peace. Im Yirtzeh Hashem, this will come speedily both in Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz.

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