Rabbi Robinson’s Sermon May 21, 2021

Rabbi Yair D. Robinson


Parashat Naso


This week we read birkat shalom, the so-called priestly benediction, where God’s blessing, the one that is supposed to be shared with the people, is first uttered. We are familiar, of course, with the words, recited on Shabbat over our children, at the holidays, over our b’nai mitzvah and wedding couples and confirmation classes, and inscribed on the plate on the bimah dedicated to Rabbi Drooz. The words are:

“May God bless and keep you. May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious with you. May God’s countenance be lifted up to you and give you peace.”

We might think that these words, that this blessing, is somehow conditional. That is, that the blessing is only when Israel is doing what it is supposed to do. And there is a Midrash that supports that notion, that God will lift the divine face when Israel does God’s will, imagining God as some kind of divine accountant. But there is a Chasidic tradition that contradictions this notion. The Sfat Emet replies to this Midrash by saying, in fact, that this means that God rejoices in every bit of service we perform, as if it were entirely more significant than we might see it. Just as a person rejoices in a good deed and is glad to have done God’s will, whether great or small, so does the Creator accept this offering with a smile.” So that the peace that comes at the end of the blessing is in fact the wholeness that comes when we help create wholeness in the world.

I know we are tired and are still trying to figure out way in this new world—and truth be told, when are we not?—And I know it seems like whatever it is we do is the very definition of Sisyphean; another task whose value seems slight no matter the effort. However, let us understand and embrace this blessing for ourselves; that the mitzvot we perform, no matter how small they may seem, matter profoundly, and bring about wholeness and peace to the world around us. May they bring each of us closer to wholeness and peace as well. Amen.