Yevarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha
May the Source of Life bless you and protect you. (Numbers 6:24)
The most ancient Jewish prayer that we still know and recite today appears in this week’s Torah portion. It is known as Birkat Cohanim – the Priestly Blessing and also as Birkat Hashalom – The Blessing of Peace:
YHVH spoke to Moses, saying: speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them how to bless the Children of Israel. They shall say:
May YHVH bless you and protect you.
May YHVH fill you with light and grace.
May YHVH countenance be lifted towards you, and fill you with peace.
In this way you will link my Ineffable Name to the Children of Israel, and I will be blessing them. (Numbers 6:22-27)
The instructions are clear: Aaron and his sons are to be conduits so that Divine energy can flow into the Children of Israel.
In Jewish mystical thought, the direct energy of God is too great for a body to bear. The unmediated light of God is compared to the light and heat of the sun. The sun’s light and heat sustain us, but the light is too strong to stare at directly and too much of its heat will burn us. A modern analogy is that of electricity: the direct current from the power plant will fry all of our appliances – transformers are required to reduce the current, sometimes down to a trickle, so that it runs our motors or charges our batteries without blowing them up. This is one way that the earlier deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu (Lev. 10:1-2) are explained: When they entered the sanctuary illicitly, they were not prepared to be conduits of the great energy of life, creativity and consciousness that is God. The power surge that they experienced, as it were, was more than their systems could bear.