The Ultimate Berachah by Jonathan Karp


In Parashat Naso, Hashem presents three blessings, known as Birkot HaKohanim, that the Kohanim recite every day during Davening. The individual Berachot are (BeMidbar 6:24-26), “Yevarechecha Hashem VeYishmerecha; Ya’eir Hashem Panav EilechaViChunekah; Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha VeYaseim Lecha Shalom.” “Hashem will bless you and watch over you, Hashem will shine his face upon you and give you grace, Hashem will lift up his face to you and give you peace .” The number of words in each Pasuk and Berachah increases progressively from three to five to seven. The same progression can be seen in the content of the Brachot, as each Berachah adds an additional element of Hashem’s blessing.

The first Berachah, as explained by Abarbanel, is focused entirely on practical needs. The word “VeYishmerecha” refers to the material possessions that Hashem will provide for us. The second Berachah, in direct contrast to the first one, is a completely spiritual Berachah. As Sforno explains, this Berachah refers to the idea that Hashem will grant us understanding of the Torah. The third Berachah is the ultimate blessing, a combination of the first two, granting both physical and spiritual gain. However, the beginning of the third Berachah seems problematic. How is “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” any better, if not any different from, “Ya’eir Hashem Panav Eilecha”? Rashi (ad loc., “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha”), quoting BeMidbar Rabbah, explains that “Hashem lifting his face” means that He is suppressing His anger. The word “Panav” in this context represents a face of wrath.

However, this explanation still poses a problem. If the Berachah refers to Hashem suppressing his anger, it would have negative connotations, as opposed to the Berachah before it, which has positive connotations. Rashbah explains that “Panav” does not always have to imply anger, but it can imply any emotion, either positive or negative. Therefore, the third Berachah is not necessarily negative.

The word ‘Panav’ can also be explained as showing favor. In Masechet Rosh Hashanah (17b), a Giyoret is quoted as asking Raban Gamliel about an apparent contradiction between two phrases. In Birkot HaKohanim, “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” means that Hashem will show you favor, while elsewhere “Asher Lo Yisa Panim VeLo Yikach Shochad” refers to the prohibition against showing favor in judgment. Rabi Yosei HaKohein explains to her that “Lo Yisah Panim” involves transgressions between people while “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” involves transgressions between us and Hashem. This seems to imply that Hashem cares more about man’s honor than His own honor.

There is a similar discussion in a Midrash in BeMidbar Rabbah. The Midrash also asks why the Torah contradicts itself, and the Midrash answers that the word ‘Panim’ refers to partiality. Although partiality is forbidden in court, Bnei Yisrael do show Hashem partiality, and in return, Hashem shows them partiality. In what way do Bnei Yisrael show Hashem partiality? The answer lies in something we do every day: Birkat HaMazon.  Although the Torah states (Devarim 8:10) “VeAchalta VeSavata UVeirachta” “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem,” we show partiality towards Hashem by thanking Him after eating even if we are not fully satisfied. Since Bnei Yisrael act beyond the letter of the law, Hashem goes beyond the letter of His law by granting Bnei Yisrael undeserved forgiveness. Therefore, the third Berachah, in which Hashem acts to a further extent to show favor towards Bnei Yisrael, is greater than the second Berachah.

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch explains that the third Berachah represents  the climax of all of the Berachot.  The physical and spiritual gains of the first two Berachot lead to the third Berachah. This Berachah speaks of the nearness of Hashem to us, the ultimate blessing. Hopefully, we will all be Zocheh to recognize these blessings in our lives this Shavuot and in the future.

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