Magical Presence

During my childhood, the most magical Jewish moment I ever experienced came annually during the High Holy Days when the Cohanim went up to the Bima and blessed the congregation using the same words my parents used to bless me and my sister each Friday night. My grandfather was a Cohen, so when we were with them for the holidays he left his seat in the pews next to me to wash his hands and go up to the front. Then the entire congregation turned away (I went under my father’s Tallit) during the priestly benediction, presumably because the divine presence would be overwhelming if we looked. Because my eyes were closed and/or the tallit was covering them, I never knew until later that their hands were performing the Vulcan greeting “Live long and prosper,” appropriated by Leonard Nimoy for Star Trek from that exact ritual.

This week’s Torah portion, Nasso, is the source of the priestly blessing said during those holy moments and also the parents’ blessing over their children on Friday night. The language is fascinating:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

May G-d bless you and watch over you.

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

May G-d make his face shine to you and be gracious to you.

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃

May G-d raise his face to you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

These three lines have always meant a great deal to me since they were part of such special childhood moments, and they have taken on new meaning as my wife and I recite them to our own children each Shabbat eve. My favorite aspect of the words is that they request G-d’s favor by asking for G-d’s face to be directed towards us.

In my work and in my role as parent and husband, I am often challenged to be fully present for whomever I am interacting with. Because all of us have a variety of pressures, demands, needs, and requirements in our lives, it can be extremely challenging to shut out all the other competing thoughts and truly direct our faces to those with whom we are speaking. We are built to know the difference, though, and when someone is distracted, we can tell. That is why those words are so powerful – they are a request for G-d’s presence to shine on those we care about.

I hope that I can be fully present for those I lead and those I love all the time, while acknowledging that perfection in this task is certainly not 100% realistic. This week, ask your children if they know when you are completely plugged in, and when you are not. If they know the difference, what clues do they use?

Shabbat Shalom,