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Parashat Naso

Shalom (Peace) and Esau

The Torah portion Naso includes many varied subjects that at first glance seem to have nothing to do with one another.

The portion describes the functions of the Levites in the tabernacle
the laws of secretions and leprosy
the guilt offerings
the laws concerning the unfaithful wife
the laws of the Nazarite
and the sacrifices of the princes of the tribes

Out of all these subjects I would like to deal today with the priestly blessing also mentioned in this portion.

We all know the blessing, not only because it has been included in the Reader's return of the Amidah, but also because we say it once a week to our sons and daughters before the Shabat meal.

Numbers: 6:22 "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, 'In this way you shall bless the children of Israel saying to them, The Lord bless thee and keep thee, the Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious to thee, the Lord lift up his countenance to thee and give thee peace."

The blessing is built in three stages, ascending from level to level: from three words (Hebrew) in the first verse, to five words in the second verse and seven words in the third verse, that, it seems, being the reason that it is called the "tripartite blessing".

And this blessing reaches its climax with the saying of the last word which is "peace", about which the sages said: "If there is no peace, there is nothing."

What has not been said about peace? Is it possible to say something new about this value?

What did the sages say about peace:

Peace is greater than any blessing and the prayers conclude with the word "shalom".

The Shema concludes with peace: "And spread your tent of peace".

The priestly blessing concludes with peace: "And grant thee peace".
(Numbers 6)

And all the blessings end with the word peace: "Makes peace"
(Yalkut Shimoni, Naso)

Peace is great because one of the names of the Lord is Peace .
(BeMidbar Raba: 11:7)

Peace is so great that even the dead need peace, as it is said "And you shall come to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age" (Yalkut Shimon, Naso)

Peace is great even when weighed against everything else for we say,
"He makes peace and creates all things" (BeMidbar Raba: 11:7)

There is one very interesting thing arising from all these sources.

Peace is the ultimate good, but at the same time it appears that peace is not dependent upon us, the people of Israel is not commanded to bring peace because peace does not belong in any way to this world.

The Lord of the World is the one who "makes peace upon us".
G-d is the one who promise peace to our father Abraham in "the covenant of the Betarim".

The Holy One blessed be He is the One who gives us peace.

And where is our place in this story?

Even if these things are reasonable from a theological standpoint, it seems to me that these sources have turned us into passive subjects with respect to peace.

If peace is unattainable and is the possession of the Holy One …… other than saying the prayers, what can we do in order to bring about peace?

Perhaps we should continue to pray for peace while busying ourselves with things that are attainable, like making a living, education and social justice and leave peace to lyricists and poets?

If there is (as people say) "no one to talk to" (a mantra that I have heard repeated over the past few weeks by people whom I never thought would say such a thing).

Why make the effort for something that is unattainable especially when there is no partner to make peace with.

However, there is another explanation that allows us to overcome the feeling of discouragement implying that there is nothing that we can do.

This is the explanation of "Ba'al Hatorim" who raises a fascinating point:

"Peace in Numerology is Esau" says Ba'al Hatorim in his explanation of our Torah portion.

These days, when we hear "there's no one to talk to" we should know that we did not invent this.

The people of Israel has been convinced for four thousand years that with respect to Esau there is no one to talk to. We can never think of Esau as a partner to peace.

And suddenly in an original and surprising way, "Ba'al Hatorim" notes the fact that "peace" and "Esau" have the same numerical value.

And "Ba'al Hatorim" even adds:

"Greet everyone with the word "peace", greet even Esau with the same word".

If the name Esau is used as a symbolic expression of the blood thirsty Roman empire and for the whole pagan world, "Ba'al Hatorim" notes that
Israel must not think that peace is the sole possession of G-d and that we are merely a passive factor.

This is not so.

Peace is not just the climax of the blessings, peace is also a commandment, as it is written in the Psalms "seek peace and pursue it"
(Psalm 34:15)

Professor Leibovitch noted with respect to the same Numerology used by "Ba'al Hatorim":

"The people of Israel should know to what extent they are commanded to peace, because Israel will not have peace until peace is established between Jacob and Esau".

In other words, until we internalize the insight that the impossible is simply that which has not yet been attempted.

Weekly Torah Portion

Old Hebrew Prayer Book
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