Torah for the Times

Friday, June 1, 2012 - 11 Sivan, 5772

Torah Reading:Naso (Numbers 4:21 - 7:89)
Candle Lighting Time: 8:03 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:12 PM


The Introduction

This week’s parsha features the commandment to the Kohanim (Priests) to bless the Jewish people with Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing. G‑d entrusted the Kohanim with the special responsibility to shower G‑d’s blessings upon their fellow Jews.

The Priestly Blessing is divided into three separate blessings and is recited by Jews every morning. The blessings read:

“May G‑d bless you and protect you."

“May G‑d show His countenance to shine to you and favor you."

"May G‑d raise His face towards you and grant you peace.”

What concerns us in this essay are the prefatory words with which these three blessings are introduced: G‑d spoke to Moses, “speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is how you should bless the children of Israel, say to them...’”

The question can be raised: why the need for the final words, “say to them”? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to have simply stated, “This is how you should bless the children of Israel”?

The following answer is based on an exposition by a nineteenth century Hungarian scholar, Rabbi Naftali Stern, who died very young and left no children. His father published his commentary on the Torah, posthumously. His intriguing explanation will help to provide us with some inspiration about the power of consistent speech that is especially relevant in our day and age.


The Talmud (Shabbos 118b) relates that the great Sage Rabbi Yosi spoke about several things that he was conscientious about.

Rabbi Yosi said, “In all my days I have never disobeyed the words of my colleagues. I know about myself that I am not a Kohain, but if my colleagues would tell me ‘go up to the platform [to bless the congregation], I would go up.’”

These words are then followed with what seems to be a completely unrelated virtue of Rabbi Yosi: “In all my days I have never said something and had to retreat.”

What do these two attributes of Rabbi Yosi—that he would go bless the Jewish people at the behest of his colleagues and that he would never retreat from his words—have in common?

Every Jew can be a Kohain

Blessing the Jewish people is a mission that was given specifically to the Kohanim. Although every Jew has the capacity to bless others, only the Kohain was given the express commandment to bless them. And only the Kohain was given the guarantee that his blessings would be effective and that they would come to fruition without delay.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Yosi’s colleagues believed that Rabbi Yosi had the power of blessing others that approximated the power vested in the Kohanim, despite the fact that he was not a Kohain. Indeed, Maimonides writes (End of Laws of Shemittah) that every Jew can endeavor to become a Kohain, at least in terms of his or her spiritual levels. It follows, then, that every one of us can generate blessings that are in line with the priestly blessings.

Creating Channels

To better understand the mechanism for the Kohain’s blessing, it is necessary to understand the concept of a blessing in general.

A blessing, or its Hebrew name, bracha is more than just good wishes from one to another. A bracha, Chassidic philosophy teaches, is a conduit for the good that already exists on another plane to be channeled into our lives. G‑d’s positive energy is often elusive and its flow from the Source of blessing can be obstructed. The bracha, particularly the Priestly blessing, removes those obstructions and allows for a smooth flow of good energy from the Source into the recipients of the blessing.

The Kohain, whose entire life, was to be dedicated towards transmitting G‑d’s energy to the world and who is engaged in spiritual pursuits, was the most suited individual to transmit G‑d’s blessings to the entire Jewish people. His purity and involvement with spirituality rendered him a transparent vehicle to channel the G‑dly blessing. The Kohain was, therefore, eminently qualified to bless us.

The Kohain Substitute

Rabbi Yosi, despite not being a Kohain, was as spiritually elevated as a Kohain. All of the stories recorded in the Talmud point to Rabbi Yosi’s obsession with holiness and a single-minded devotion to G‑d.

His colleagues, therefore, insisted that he, too, could and should channel G‑d’s blessings to the Jewish people. In their estimation, Rabbi Yosi’s blessings would possess the same formidable, positive and unobstructed energy as those of a Kohain.


Rabbi Yosi, in his humility, would not attribute his ability to bless to a greater holiness or spiritual level that he may have possessed. Instead, he reasoned that his colleagues were impressed with one trait that qualified him to bestow blessings: his consistency. He would never retreat from his word.

In Rabbi Yosi’s mind, this was but a simple and modest accomplishment that endowed his blessings with greater power. Rabbi Yosi believed that anyone could adhere to this virtue and he did not consider himself to be unique.

Rabbi Yosi was partially correct. He was not average in terms of spirituality; he was head and shoulders above all others. But he was right in suggesting that the power of his blessings emanated from his consistent speech and that this ability was in everyone’s reach.

The Power of Consistent Speech

A person who is careful to keep his or her word is a person whose speech carries much more weight and credibility in all areas of life. When a person is known for the integrity of his or her speech, he or she is trusted and respected. This pays off with immediate dividends with greater success in business and better relationships.

What occurs in the social and economic sphere mirrors the enhanced spirituality that comes from the integrity of one’s speech. Pure, truthful and consistent verbiage contains positive energy and endows the person who speaks with the power to bless others and have those blessings materialize. Good, pure, positive and consistent speech endows all of the words we use to bless others with unobstructed power to change the world for the good.

Thus, Rabbi Yosi attributed his success in bestowing blessings on others to the consistency of his speech.

The Deeper Meaning of “Say to Them.”

With this introduction, we can understand why the Torah adds the apparently redundant words “and say to them” in the verse: “G‑d spoke to Moses, speak to Aaron and his sons saying, ‘this is how you should bless the children of Israel, say to them.’”

The message conveyed by this seemingly superfluous expression, “say to them”, is that if you want your blessings to match those of the exalted Kohain, you must “say to them”, meaning that your speech must be consistent; you must continually say the same thing. Do not change the message to suit your audience. Keep on saying to them that which you have said to them yesterday and the day before.

And though we may find it difficult to rise to higher spiritual levels of consciousness, Rabbi Yosi impresses upon us that we can all maintain a high caliber of speech.

For all of our history, we have been asking G‑d to bestow His blessings on us. However, the way G‑d’s blessings are generated is by the blessings we bestow on one another. And, although the power to bless others was placed in the hands of the Kohain and the most righteous and spiritually advanced individuals, nevertheless, the Talmud states: “Do not underestimate the power of the blessing of even a simple person.” This is even truer when we are discussing a person whose speech is morally and spiritually sophisticated.

From the above analysis we derive the inspiration to make our blessings more potent by speaking consistently.

The definition of consistent speech is not limited to always speaking truthfully. It does not just mean that we should not dissemble. It is not just about delivering the Torah’s message to others without distorting it for some elusive benefit.

It goes beyond that.

It means that we should never tire of repeating the same message until it is heard and absorbed by the listener.

The Lesson for Our Age

This lesson is especially pertinent in the present era, the last phase of exile, when we eagerly await the Redemption. We should not get tired of asking G‑d to bring Moshiach. We should not tire transmitting the message the Rebbe told us to deliver to the entire world; that we are living in Messianic times and it is up to us to pray for, demand, anticipate and prepare for the final Redemption by increasing our performance of the Divine commandments. Among them is the command to bless one another with love and affection.
May our consistent and persistent words and prayers bear fruit imminently!

Moshiach Matters

Question: Does Judaism view the Messianic era as a supernatural time? Answer: Well, there definitely are sources that would imply so. According to the Midrash, in the Messianic era, plants will yield their produce on the same day they are planted; entire trees will be edible, not only their fruit; and even non-fruit-bearing trees will bear fruit. The Talmud describes the Messianic era as a time when the earth will produce delicacies and silk clothing, when wheat stalks will tower like palm trees and grains of wheat will grow as large as an ox’s kidneys. (Ketubot 111b) from
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