Parshat Naso: Numbers 21:1-7:89; Judges 13:2-25.
By Rabbi Daniel Schwartz
The old cliché says that Eskimos have 50 different words for snow because that’s their world.
We Jews have 50 different words for guilt. And one for “God help us:” Oy.
It’s like the story once shared with me of the four ladies playing bridge. As they start picking up their cards and looking at them, the first woman said, “Oy.”
The second, she sees her cards and says, “Oy vey.” The third, “Oy vey iz mir.” The fourth puts down her cards and says, “If we’re going to talk about our kids, I’m not playing anymore.”
If we started counting, I imagine we could find an equal number of words for complaining. After all, we’re known for it; we Jews love to kvetch. We focus on the losses and failures in our lives and in our world. We think about everything that went wrong.
This week’s portion, which also contains censuses, instructions for making restitution, the test for determining guilt for adultery and a description of who is responsible for the Tabernacle (the traveling sanctuary), also teaches us that instead of complaining, we should strive to find the beauty in our world.
We are taught this through the blessing found in this week’s portion that has come to be known as the three-fold priestly benediction, words that are traditionally said at our Shabbat dinner tables and words that are recited by the Kohanim during our prayers: “May God bless you and protect you. May God shine upon you and be gracious to you. May God bestow divine favor upon you and may God grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-27).
These ancient words have been interpreted in hundreds of different ways. Rashi, a commentator from about 1,000 years ago, broke each phrase down. Each word had a different meaning. “May God bless you” meant “May your property increase.” It had to do with material success.
Other commentators believed that God’s “blessing” had to do with spiritual enlightenment.
I would like to offer another interpretation. When we say, “May God bless you,” we’re asking that God give us the ability to recognize the good that is in our lives. We’re asking that we (or others for whom we recite these words) be able to see beyond any hardships and see the positive that comes from a situation.
The Talmud teaches that we have 10 different words to express different levels of wow. There’s simchah, joy in its broadest sense. Then there are different types of joy: like gila, rina and ditza: joy that comes in waves and moves us to singing, to dancing or joy that comes from a true sense of awe.
As we recite the words of the priestly benediction this week, may this be the blessing that we ask for: May God give us the strength to leave behind and not share our complaints so that we can find the joy, the wow and the awesomeness in our lives.
Rabbi Daniel A. Schwartz is a rabbi at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield.