FedTalks Parshas Naso – Rabbi D Kirsch – Transcript
Parshos Naso bring with it an area which is so close to my heart, and each year when I return to the sedra I am reminded of a unique story. A student who went on a search for his own Jewish ancestry. He called me one day from the cemetery. “I found my father’s father’s grave, my grandfather’s grave! I always thought I was a Yisroel, a plain Israelite, but I see on the grave that it says so-and-so, the son of so-and-so HaKohen! Does that mean I am a kohen as well?”. The first thing I advised he did was to leave the cemetery and we can discuss in greater detail when he’s left. And with the help of various rabbonim we ascertained that he indeed was a kohen. What happened was that his grandfather had passed away when his father was just a young boy and his father was adopted by a well-meaning, secular aunt, who brought him up as her own child. The grandmother of this student, was actually his great-aunt. Caring, loving, sympathetic, sensitive, but not biologically his grandmother. And suddenly our student finds out that he is indeed a kohen. Wow, what a responsibility. What made it even stranger, and this story is true, he was the gabay of his local synagogue. He was the one involved in calling everybody up. And so it was on parshas Naso that he had his first ever aliyah as a kohen. The sedra which talks about priestly blessings “yevorechecho Hashem”, “may Hashem bless you and guard you”, was the week that he was called for the first time.
A few days earlier, on shavuos, he asked me to explain him a little bit about the obligation of a kohen, how to duchen, how to pray, how to lead the community in that important part of the service. After all, he had always been a recipient and now he found himself as the person blessing everybody. Well, I explained him the laws, I showed him what needed to be done I was able, as a kohen, to explain him in detail how one’s hands are held. And then he asked me “what should my attitude be as a person who is moved from the world of a Israelite to being a kohen?”. I explained to him that within the blessings we understand and appreciate that Hashem teaches us “emor lohem”- “you have an obligation to say the words that I teach you, that I will tell you, that I will instruct you”. And in those words, we say “yevorechecha Hashem”- “may G-d bless you and guard you”. And you as a conduit of Hashem’s blessing, say those words to the community. But notice, I said, those words are in the singular. May G-d bless you”- community. And “may G-d guard you”- singular, community. Our job as Jews is to see ourselves as part of a community.
And it is only once we see and appreciate that, says Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in the Oznaim Latorah, that we are all part of the community, that we will merit to have the blessings and use the kohen to see yourself as a representative of the Almighty, as a conduit, but as a member of the Jewish people. You may be blessing the Jewish people, but you need to be part of the Jewish people. As our blessing ends, if you bless correctly: “Va’ani”, says the Almighty, “avarechem”, I will bless all of you together. May you have a truly blessed Shabbat and enjoy the blessings that you receive, from wherever they may come.