Developing the Theme of Family through the Torah Portions. Number Thirty-Five.

Dr Clifford Denton.

Nasso: Numbers 4:21-7:89.

15th June 2024/9 Sivan.

Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel….’

(Numbers 6:23)

Picture by Helen McNeill

God gave many detailed instructions to the Children of Israel through Moses. A number of them are found in this week’s portion. The order of God’s Kingdom, of course, has to be taken seriously.

In our day much is ignored, and other ideas have taken over. With the current secular worldview, it can be quite difficult to consider such matters as how a wife’s faithfulness to her husband was to be proved in the days of Moses. What about an unfaithful husband? Why such harsh penalty for unfaithfulness?

The answer is that we must read and meditate upon the whole of Scripture, taking every part seriously. For example, Ephesians 5 brings a balanced understanding to why the order of family life is important and precious to God. The serious nature of unfaithfulness is demonstrated by the treatment required in Moses’ day, which acted as a strong deterrent to anyone tempted to unfaithfulness.

In this week’s portion, we also read about the roles and responsibilities of the Levites and the offerings made by every tribe at the beginning of the ministry of the Tabernacle. There are many details, all with a purpose, also requiring careful consideration.

Right in the midst of these details, however, comes a refreshing command to Aaron concerning how to bless the Children of Israel:

 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”

“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”

God’s instructions to Moses were detailed and rigorous, but the heart behind all that God intended was that His people would be blessed. God’s blessings would be on His people when the Priestly blessing was spoken in His Name, and in the way prescribed. As we meditate upon this blessing, we might consider both its form, simplicity, and its powerful intent. This is God’s desire for all His people. It is behind all His righteous requirements. He desires that His people live in peace and perfect relationship with Him and one another. This cuts through all apparent harshness in many of the laws, and through the seeming rituals of life in His Kingdom.

If God wants His Name on His children, this means that He wants to bestow His wonderful character in us!

Were these blessings for Israel alone? Yeshua had much to say about blessings, especially in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), that brings further insight:

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Yeshua brought God’s heart to us in a fresh way without negating the principles of Torah. Blessing was central to His ministry just as it was to the Priests of the Old Covenant, if we understand Torah correctly. He even told us to bless our enemies and those who curse us (Matthew 5:44).

Take time to make a study of God’s purpose to bless His people this week, prompted by the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6. Midst our busy lives, just as it was possible for those who were first formed into a community of God’s people at the time of Moses, we might miss the importance of blessing and God’s heart for our welfare and peace.

Let us consider the power and authority in blessings spoken in the will of God. Our own words, if from our heart, in full faith, and according to our Father’s will are as effective as were Aaron’s.

The practice of blessings for the family are prominent in Jewish tradition, especially at the Sabbath meal. For example, quoting from Blessing the Children | My Jewish Learning:

Many Jewish parents embrace the custom of blessing their children on Friday evening. This custom is a nice way of bringing gratitude and spirituality into your family. On Shabbat and at other special occasions, it can contribute to a special feeling of closeness between you and your children.

The words of the blessing are taken from the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) and the introduction is altered depending on whether the child being blessed is a boy or girl.

For boys, the introductory line is:

May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלֹהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה

Yesimcha Elohim k’Ephraim v’chi-Menashe.

For girls, the introductory line is:

May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה

Yesimech Elohim k’Sarah Rivka Rachel v’Leah

For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:

May God bless you and protect you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha

May God show you favour and be gracious to you.

יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו  אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka

May God show you kindness and grant you peace.

יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום

Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem lecha shalom

The blessing is performed differently in every family. In some traditional homes, only the father blesses the children. In other families, both parents give blessings–either together and in unison, or first one parent, followed by the other. In some homes the mother blesses the girls, and the father blesses the boys.

Usually, the person giving the blessing places one or both hands on the child’s head. Some parents bless each child in succession, working from oldest to youngest. Others bless all of the girls together, and all of the boys together.

After the blessing, some parents take a moment to whisper something to their child–praising him or her for something he or she did during the week or conveying some extra encouragement and love. Almost every family concludes the blessing with a kiss or a hug.

Christian families may still have something more to learn from such Jewish traditions and from taking the spoken blessing more seriously. The Aaronic blessing was not to be a dry ritual, but a spiritual impartation. That is how it can be for us, beginning afresh in our family on this Shabbat.

(In her picture, Helen has recognised that the Book of Ruth is customarily read at Shavuot, simultaneous with our Torah portion. She recognises that Ruth’s lifting the corner of Boaz’s garment signified his role as kinsman redeemer. The blessings of God according, to those spoken in the Aaronic blessing, await her and her family.)