Parashat Nasso, Numbers 4:21-7:89, is almost always read on the Shabbat immediately following Shavuot. I find this interesting in that at Shavuot that traditionally we remember the giving of the Torah at Sinai along with Israel’s acceptance of the covenant with the words “All that ADONAI has spoken; we will do and obey” (Exodus 24:7). As followers of Yeshua, we also remember the reception of the empowering of the Ruach promised by Yeshua (see John 14:26), which according to Luke’s account occurred on Shavuot.
When the day of Shavuot had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. They were all filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh and began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out.Acts 2:1-4)
So, what is it about Nasso’s reading immediately following Shavuot that I find intriguing? There are two reasons. First, the acceptance of the Torah and Hashem’s covenant in a sense, made all of Bnei Israel a type of Nazarite, (Numbers 6:1ff). I say type, because while not abstaining from wine, strong drink, and haircuts (Numbers 6:3-5) they did, in fact make a vow “to be separate for ADONAI” (Numbers 6:2).
The second reason is also found in chapter 6, this time at the end of the chapter, and that is the so-called Aaronic Benediction.
ADONAI bless you and keep you!Numbers 6:24-26
ADONAI make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you!
ADONAI turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!
Nechama Leibowitz, introduces her commentary on this passage by stating
The priestly benedictions are familiar to every Jew who visits the synagogue, so familiar indeed that we are perhaps inclined to forget their true content and fail to appreciate their profound significance.
Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, p. 60.
Not only are these benedictions well known to most Jews, regardless of their affiliation, the same could be said about most Yeshua-followers as these three lines serve as a closing prayer in many services. What is the significance to this well-known benediction that Leibowitz fears that we miss due to familiarity? The first significance may well be their implied meaning. It is suggested that “ADONAI bless you and keep you” refers to material or physical care and protection. The second, “ADONAI make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you” refers to the HaShem taking care of one’s spiritual needs. And third, “ADONAI turn His face toward you and grant you shalom” refers to the HaShem’s ultimate favor, the granting of shalom. This third aspect of HaShem’s care is often misunderstood if we read shalom as “peace” which is the common English translation. However, “peace” is but a small nuance of the depth of “shalom.” In most Bible dictionaries or Hebrew lexicons, one finds shalom does carry the idea of peace, but much more than that. There is the concept of safety and security, of prosperity and well-being. There is an overriding sense of wholeness, completeness, a state or feeling of satisfaction, and contentment. Therefore, peace is not the absence of strife or chaos, rather shalom is the assurance that even in the strife and chaos, HaShem’s presence, comfort and care are there for us to access – to see us through to the other side of whatever we are facing or walking through. It is the shalom that HaShem gives that allowed the psalmist to write,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me.Psalm 23:4
There is another aspect of the “Aaronic Benediction” of which we need to be reminded. “Aaronic Benediction” is a bit of a misnomer. In the synagogue, when the benediction is recited, toward the end of the Amidah, it is introduced with these words,
Our God, and the God of our fathers, bless us with the threefold blessing in the Torah, written by the hand of Moses Your servant and pronounced by Aaron and his sons the priests, Your holy people, as it is said:Koren Heb/Eng Siddur, Jonathan Sacks, p.132.
This introduction elucidates the misnomer of calling it the “Aaronic Benediction.” Aaron and his descendants did not pronounce their blessing over Israel, they reiterated HaShem’s blessing. Here is the preamble and postscript to the benediction.
Again, ADONAI spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying: Thus, you are to bless Bnei-Yisrael, by saying to them: … In this way they are to place My Name over Bnei-Yisrael, and so I will bless them.”
Numbers 6:22-23 & 27
It was and remains the words of HaShem, his blessing and his very name that was bestowed upon Israel via the office of the Aaronic priesthood. Thus, contrary to popular opinion and tradition, it is not the Aaronic Benediction but HaShem’s Benediction that is pronounced over the people of God, whether it be in the synagogue or in Yeshua-believing fellowships and communities.
Furthermore, I suggest that it is this three-fold benediction also is a reminder of the Shavuot experience described in the book of Acts. The empowering presence of the Ruach ha-Kodesh is a tangible expression of the power and presence of HaShem with his people as promised by Yeshua. If there is any doubt of this, consider these words from Yeshua to his talmidim, as he promised them
“Shalom I leave you, my shalom I give to you; but not as the world gives! Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.”John 14:27
So, as we enter into the Sabbath this weekend, may each of us truly be aware of the care and concern and provision that HaShem has for each of us and in that awareness, let us truly rest in His shalom.
* All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.