Thursday, 20 May, 2021 - 6:23 pm

A woman noticed her husband standing on a bathroom scale, sucking in his stomach.

“Ha! That's not going to help!” She said.

“Sure it does.” he said. “Its the only way I can see the numbers.”

A visitor at the British Museum asks a museum employee: "Can you tell me how old that skeleton is?"

"It is precisely 60 million and three years, two months, and eighteen days old."

"How can you know that with such precision?!"


"Well, when I started working here, one of the scientists told me that the skeleton was 60 million years old - and that was precisely three years, two months, and eighteen days ago..."

If you have ever been to the synagogue during the Priestly Blessing—presented in this week’s Torah portion NASO you know it is a unique moment.

Prompted by the cantor, the kohen intones the sacred words of the blessing recorded in this week’s portion, Naso: “May G‑d bless you and keep you. May G-d shine his countenance upon you and may he be gracious to you. May G‑d show favor to you, and may He grant you peace.”


When I grew up, a survivor shared this story. It was the eve on Yom Kippur 1945, a few months after the war was over. The Klausenberger Rebbe, who lost a wife and 11 children in Auschwitz, staying in a German DP camp was preparing himself for the holiest day. All of a sudden there was a knock on the door. A young girl came in and said, "Rebbe, I do not have a father anymore. No one will be able to 'bless me' before Yom Kippur."


You know, it is an ancient Jewish custom that every father blesses his children on Yom Kippur Eve right before “Kol Nidrei.” It is one of the most moving and meaningful Jewish experiences: On the holiest night of the year a father puts his hands on the heads of his kids and blesses them.


But that year, so many children were left without parents. So this girl came to the Rebbe saying, I have no father to bless me and I want somebody to bless me.


The Rebbe put his hands on her holy head, and blessed her the way a father blesses his daughter on the eve of Yom Kippur. With tears in his eyes he told her how precious she was, what a gift she was, how much he was praying for her bright future…


May G-d bless you and protect you. May He shine His countenance upon you and give you grace. May He life you up and grant you peace.


Five minutes later there was another knock on the door. It was another girl, again without a father, again with no one to bless her before Yom Kippur. Again the Rebbe went through the same routine. He put his hands upon her head, and he blessed her the way a father blesses his daughter:


This repeated itself again and again. The orphans kept on coming and the Rebbe attended to each of them, as though he was their father. That eve of Yom Kippur, the Rebbe blessed over eighty orphaned girls… He placed his hands on each of them and gave them the love, the undivided attention, the confidence children yearn for so deeply.


What is the secret behind these blessings? Why have Jewish parents been blessing their children for three millennia with these words? What power and message do they contain? Why did G-d choose this precise text as the medium of blessing to our people? Why do the priests bless our people every day, in Israel, with these blessings—every day, 365 days a year?


The Midrash begins by asking, what is the source of Israel’s entitlement to the priestly blessing which begins with the words “So shall you bless the children of Israel”?


The Midrash answers that we merited these unique blessings from three verses concerning our Patriarchs, where the identical term is used.


The priestly blessings are unique.  What do these blessings mean?

When the Creator promised Avraham that he would be blessed with children, the Torah tells us that the Creator “took him outside and said ‘Look down upon the heavens and count the stars . . . so shall be your children.”


The promise is that the history of the Jewish people will fundamentally not unfold by the natural laws of politics, economics, military, and social forces which generally determine the fate of nations. Israel is to be guided by a supernatural course, by a Divine miraculous providence, on the basis of which it will survive, thrive, and prevail. Jewish destiny will depend on Jews’ relation to Torah law and prophecy over and above natural law. It is this Divine presence in history which Abraham and his future descendants are bidden to see.

How crucial this message is today, when so many of our people are so deeply ashamed and apologetic. Many feel intimated when they hear the accusations that Israel is engaged in “terrorism” and “ethnic cleansing.” If it would not cause bloodshed, it would be a comedy.


Amid bitter domestic argument, and with strong support from the international community, Israel unilaterally “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. It uprooted more than 20 settlements and their approximately 10,000 residents, and pulled back to the pre-1967 lines.


Many Jews considered it a historic error. It was a dangerous vindication of terrorism. But many were relieved at the thought that Israel had finally separated itself from the toxic Gaza Strip.


The very same say the Jews left, the synagogues were burnt, cemeteries desecrated, and greenhouses destroyed. They were destroying their own future and economy. Over 10,000 Rockets have been fired toward civilian populations in Israel. Hamas has mounted cross-border terrorist attacks, sent killers via tunnels dug beneath the border, flown incendiary balloons into Israel, goaded masses of Gazans into endless confrontations at the fence. Hamas has assembled and gradually upgraded a formidable rocket arsenal, capable of launching hundreds of increasingly potent projectiles deep into Israel within minutes. Thursday saw it targeting both of Israel’s international airports — Ben Gurion and, apparently using a rocket of unprecedented range, Ramon, near Eilat.


Were it not for the 90% successful Iron Dome rocket defense system, much of Israel would have been reduced to rubble over the past eleven days, as it would have been during the innumerable previous Hamas rocket onslaughts in recent years. Were it not for the Israeli and Egyptian efforts to deny Hamas a free hand in importing weaponry, Israel would have faced still more devastating military perils from Gaza. These would have included the kinds of precision-guided weaponry stockpiled over the years by that other quasi-state terrorist army, Hezbollah, that dominates a second territory from which Israel unilaterally withdrew, southern Lebanon.


The cynical and evil Hamas has presented the current escalation as a “battle for Jerusalem” — reflecting its stated motivation to eliminate Israel and sever the Jewish people’s 3,000-year connection to their capital, while advancing its goal of obliterating Israel. This campaign has already proved a considerable success for Hamas, which cares not at all for the suffering it is causing Gazans as the Israeli army attempts to stop the rocket fire. It is a win-win for them: attack Israel, kill Jews, send missiles from heavy populated areas (many of those missiles killing their own people in Gaza), forcing Israel to respond, and then when some of their children die due to what they are doing, they blame Israel.  

No country on earth could allow its home front to be targeted in the way Hamas attacks Israel. No military force on earth could counter that threat, when the rockets are launched from the midst of a civilian populace, without harming civilians. The amorality of Hamas as the cynical aggressor, and the legitimacy of Israel in defending its populace against the de facto government of the terror state next door, should be clear to anybody prepared to familiarize themselves with reality.

Yet so many of us have been so indoctrinated. We are ashamed, intimidated, apologetic. This is the time to embrace our Jewishness with pride, dignity, and inner confidence. And to remember, that we are all one people. When we strengthen ourselves in Judaism here, it helps our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.

This is the core message of the priestly blessings—to be blessed by the vision that G-d’s light guides our lives and defines our reality. That we always have the perception to see meaning in our lives and the presence of G-d and purpose in every reality.


Three message, three blessings, have sustained us for 3333 years: One, we strive to live the most successful life, but never forget that all of our blessings are gifts from G-d. Two, we always remember that G-d has placed each of us here on a mission to impact our environment, to be ambassadors of love, light and hope, through our Torah and our mitzvoth. We are always performing in a divine symphony, and each of us is an indispensable note. Three, even in our downer moments, in our failures, in our challenges, and in our pain, we rise up and continue to run the course, because G-d is with us.


This, then, is the question of the Midrash. What is the source for all the blessings of the Jewish people? What allowed us to bless and be blessed this way? What allowed us to experience these priestly blessings? The answer is the three  blessings correlates to three forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who provided us with the extraordinary vision in history, to be able to be blessed and bless these unique blessings.


In the confused and clouded times in which we live today, it is often difficult to see the Divine Presence glimmering in the darkness of history, guiding us to Redemption, to Jerusalem rebuilt, to the climactic dedication of the final and glorious Beit Hamikdash. What we see is terror, pain, and panic.


A story:

There was a gentleman in a shul in New Rochelle, NY who on the holidays always left the synagogue before the priestly blessings. One man tried for years to figure out why he always walked out before the Kohanim came up to bless the people, but to no avail.


After years of wonder, finally, one day the elderly man relented and shared the story behind his strange custom.


It was Passover in Bergen Belzen, he began to share. The Rabbi of our community managed to get a hold of some matzah, illegally baked under the evil eyes of the SS; maror we had plenty of… In the barrack, the Rabbi conducted a most inspiring seder, reciting the haggdah by heart and having us all join in the traditional song. We were in Bergen Belzen, enslaved by Hitler, but a little spark in our hearts that night was free.


Toward the end of the seder, an SS officer barged into the barrack. He immediately knew what was going on. He asked, who was responsible for arranging this seder? If you do not tell me, I will kill all of you. And the Rabbi responded: It was all me. I am responsible.

The next morning they took him out to be shot on a mound, in the presence of all the Jewish inmates, to teach us all a lesson. The Germans lined us all up and they brought our Rabbi to a hill that overlooked the camp.


Right before the execution, the Rabbi asked the Nazi killer if he would be granted a last request. “Even barbarians grant their victims a last wish. You are a cultured German; certainly you will do this for me.”


The Nazi consented.

The Rabbi said, I am a Kohen and I would like to bless my people.

The holy Rabbi lifted up both of his hands, in the gesture of Kohanim for thousands of years, and in a thundering voice, which sounded like it came straight from Sinai, our fear Rabbi began to bless us:


"May G-d bless you and protect you.” “May G-d make shine His countenance upon you and give you grace.”


“May G-d lift you up and grant you peace.”


Moments later, his corpse lay in a river of blood.


And the man in the synagogue concluded: “The priestly blessings said by my Rabbi moments before his murder in Bergen Belzen still ring in my ears, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can't bear the thought to hear it from anybody else. I want to retain that pure holy voice in my imagination. Thus I walk out of shul before the Kohanim come up to recite these blessings…


This survivor articulated the above truth. These blessings have been ringing in the Jewish ear for three millennia. They have kept us going through thick and thin. They have given us focus, direction, perspective, and stamina. They allowed us to move forward with resolve and hope. They continue to do that today.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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