Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Naso 5759

The Fourth Fold

Y'varech'cha Ad-nai v'yishmarecha Yaeir Ad-nai panav eilecha v'chunecha Yisa Ad-nai panav eilecha, vayaseim l'cha shalom.

In the Ashkenazi rite, there is a fourth line that gets left off the Priestly benediction. (It is included in the Sephardi rite.)

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarchem.

Yes, omitting it helps preserve the beautiful poetic structure of the three-fold benediction. And even modern leadership and management pundits sing the virtues of the triad in writing and speaking.

But in dropping this line from this blessing, I think perhaps we are losing something.

"They shall put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." (The JPS version says "link My name" which, in context, also seems to fit.)

Some might say the fourth line merely restates the obvious. In each of the previous three lines, we are told that Gd is in charge, and it is by Gd's grace that good things are bestowed upon us. So why remind us that we need to link Gd's name with our people?

But that's exactly the point. We DO need to be reminded. Sometimes we don't make the connection-we take Gd for granted. And we forget the special nature of our connection with Gd - our holy covenant.

The threefold benediction has been bandied about a lot, especially in recent times, and by liberal Jews. (The Orthodox reserve this benediction for special times.) The rabbis seem to have become the inheritors of the power the Torah grants to the priests of Aaron to recite this blessing on behalf of the people. It's been used at all sorts of occasions, and in all sorts of contexts. It is also widely in use in Christian worship. It's my personal belief, too, that sometimes it's a bit overused-simply because it is such a powerful piece of poetry and prayer. Really, really good blessings like this one-do they lose their power and majesty when overused? Can one really overuse a prayer or blessing? Some would say not. I think we can, and I believe we are the worse for it, despite good intentions (remember Nadav and Avihu?) I find it a very powerful and moving blessing, elegant in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity, in the manner of Mozart. (Better, surely, than Mozart, for it's author outshines Mozart in every way!) But I digress.

I think the priestly benediction has lost the connection to its original purpose, because of the omission of the fourth line. It has become a prayer where we, as a community, or as individuals, ask and pray for Gd's blessing. In it's original form, I think perhaps it was a telling or an instruction. Gd will bless you and keep you. Gd will make Gd's face to shine on you. Gd will bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.

"Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them."

It's not popular these days to say anything that might seem exclusivist. (That may be another reason the fourth line has been dropped from the blessing.) But this is the true and full meaning of the blessing, in my view. Gd will keep us, because Gd has a special covenant with us, and will bless the people Israel. (That doesn't mean Gd won't bless or keep anybody else. Our covenant doesn't necessarily make us better than others. If anything, it is an obligation and a burden.) This fourth line is our reminder of who we are, and that in all our prayers, we must remember Gd's covenant with us. It's hard, in the aftermath of the Shoah, in the aftermath of almost two millennia of persecution and misfortune, and in light of modernity, to sometimes remember that we, Israel, are a covenanted people. It thus being so hard, we all the more need now to include this fourth line with our use of the threefold benediction (I think all my past English teachers would shudder at that sentence...but I digress again.) When so much about us makes us doubt Gd, makes us doubt the reality and continuance of Israel's covenant with Gd, we need to be reminded.

Next time you say or hear this powerful blessing, trying adding that extra line:

V'samu et-sh'mi al-b'nei Yisrael v'ani avarchem. Thus, they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them."

My prayer for you and yours this Shabbat: link Gd's name with the people of Israel, your people, so that you remember Gd's covenant with them-with you.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester

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