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In this week's parsha video, Rabbi Fohrman delves deeper into the Priestly Blessing and its relevant lessons, challenging us to see the path of parental love laid out in the Torah.
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parsha Behaalotecha.
In this week’s Parsha, we read of a commandment to Aaron, the tent to the lighting the candles of the Minora and the Mishkan and the tabernacle. This command, I think, elegantly interweaves with an idea that we began discussing last week, an idea concerning the priestly blessing [Hebrew 00:20] I suggested to you last week, that [Hebrew 00:22] can be seen as a kind of parenting manual as were, it is a prayer in which we relate to God as a parent, a heavenly parent and it provides a paradigm as it were for what it means to be a good parent in one’s child’s life.
I left you with a puzzle last week, what are the last two verses of the priestly blessing are about? The first one, [Hebrew 00:42], I suggested that it deals with the idea of compassion, that a parent has two fundamental obligation towards a child, to build that child, to increase his or her strengths and to safe guard that child. This obligation is a lifetime obligation but it begins when the child is in the womb, indeed the womb is the paradigmatic case of building and sheltering a child. These two things, sheltering and building which we sometime call compassion, [Hebrew 01:11], these are not the only obligations that a parent has. They open the door for a new way that a parent can relate to a child. A new way that a parent can bestow love, in fact, love really, I want to argue is what [Hebrew 01:26] is all about.
All three verses are really about three different kinds of love that a parent can express towards a child. The very first of which we can call [Hebrew 01:36] but there are two others as well. You know by the way that it is love from the blessing that the [Hebrew 0142] themselves make when they bestow [Hebrew 01:46] upon the Jews. They say, [Hebrew 01:47], that God has commanded us to bless the Jewish people with love. In the past, I sometimes thought of that meant, that the [Hebrew 01:58] is meant to have a loving kind of disposition when they bless the Jews but I don’t think it means that. I think what it really means is that that which they are asking God to bestow is love. God commanded us [Hebrew 02:11] to bless his people by bestowing God’s love upon them, the three kinds of love is cased in [Hebrew 02:19] itself.
The first kind, [Hebrew 02:23] compassion, what is the second kind? [Hebrew 02:26], how should we translate those words? [Hebrew 02:31] means is to shine or to illuminate and now, a little puzzle for the answer itself. [Hebrew 02:37] what is the direct object of the verb? One way to read the verse is that the direct object is a [Hebrew 02:44], you which is to say, let God shine his face upon you but there’s another possible way to read the verse, a way suggested by Rashi. What if the direct object of the verb was not you but it is [Hebrew 02:57], God’s face? What if you read the verse this way, [Hebrew 03:00], let God illuminate his own face towards you. It means that let God light up his face when he sees you, he can’t help but beam, his whole face lights up. This in fact is how Rashi asked us to translate this phrase. [Hebrew 03:19], Rashi says, let God smile, let him show you a beautiful, happy disposition, [Hebrew 03:27], and let him grant you grace. What is grace mean? The Hebrew word [Hebrew 03:34] comes from a word [Hebrew 03:36] also related to [Hebrew 03:38] for free, to give for free. It’s completely undeserved love, it’s what we might call unconditional love, it’s different than [Hebrew 03:47] compassion. Compassion is the love that I bestow in order to attain something, it is conditional, I am trying to build you up, I have a goal. Theoretically, if a parent would see that a child has absolutely no potential, there would be no room for compassion kind of love. It is impossible to build. Indeed, a womb is very discerning about the [Hebrew 04:07] that it bestows. It bestows this compassion, this nurturing only if it perceives potential. If it does not precede potential, there will be a miscarriage. [Hebrew 04:17] is not unconditional love but [Hebrew 04:20] grace that is unconditional. It’s love that has no goal, its love for its own sake, its love because you are my child. I can’t help but smile when I look at you. It’s the kind of love that every father and mother knows, when their eyes meet the eyes of their child and they can’t help but smile.
Now if you think deeply about [Hebrew 04:44] doesn’t really come from nowhere. It comes not from the future of goals that I will achieve by the virtue of bestowing it upon you, it comes from the past, that one I have already put into you, I built you up, I have safeguarded you 9 months in the womb and here you are and I can’t help but smile. The moment, the paradigmatic moment of [Hebrew 05:01] is the moment after birth, the moment when parent holds child, looks down at child, meets eyes of child and can’t help but smile. It is unconditional love. That unconditional love, that meeting of the eyes ironically is the greatest nourishment that a child’s soul can ever get but ironically this kind of love truly fuel a child’s growth, it is what a child lives on.
Once you have bestowed [Hebrew 05:30], once you have bestowed compassion, once you have cared for your child’s safeguard and invest in them and built them up, it can’t help but fuel [Hebrew 05:37]. The giving of [Hebrew 05:38] is the second kind of love that a parent gives a child but there is a third kind of love too that appears at the last of the verses of [Hebrew 05:48].
The third kind of love is built on the first two, once you have invested in your child with [Hebrew 05:54] with compassion, once you have spent years bestowing grace upon him, just enjoying the child, you are finally in the position to be able to offer a third kind of love, a much more difficult kind of love to offer. [Hebrew 06:07] let God lift up his face towards you and let him grant you peace. Interesting, the last two verses of [Hebrew 06:16] speak of God’s face, the first did not. The paradigmatic moment of the first type of love, [Hebrew 06:23] compassion, the love of the womb, in the womb the child cannot see the face of the mother. After birth, then the child can see the face of the mother. Then what is the job of the parent, the parent has only one job at that point, to meet the gaze of the child. There is two kinds of ways to meet the gaze of their child, the first one [Hebrew 06:42] that we just discussed is unconditional love, it is top down love, it is when I gaze upon my child, vertically I the parent am above the child, the child is below. The child is defenseless, he can do nothing and indeed this love is undeserved, it comes completely from the parent. It is truly top down love but there is another kind of love too, another way to meet the gaze of your child. It is not when you look down at your child, it is when you look across him and you meet his gaze, [Hebrew 07:08] let God pick up his face, it is as if God’s face is downcast. Why would God’s face be downcast, it is the moment later in life, after child has become someone that I can look across at, horizontally equal to me, someone who can choose just like I, parent can choose. There is of course the possibility then that he will choose differently than me and when child chooses different than me, how does child feel? Child rightly or wrongly as the case maybe can feel shame. If a child has truly betrayed me, has done me wrong then the shame is justified. If child has simply chosen legitimately different path then perhaps the shame is not justified but either way shame can be there. Who am I to choose differently than my parents, I live in the shadow of my parents. The parent in those moments has a choice to make, a choice whether to avert their eyes or a choice to meet the gaze of their child.
If child tries to reconcile with me, to reason with me, to try to explain themselves and I refuse to meet their gaze, if I keep my eyes downcast, what am I really doing? I am playing with you, I am keeping you tethered to me. Don’t do that, [Hebrew 08:18] says, the blessing that God teaches us to ask of God is God when we make choices and those choices are not perhaps the choices that you would have want us to make. Allow us the chance to truly reconcile with you and grant us peace, look us in the eye.
After all the words have been spoken, after all the apologies have been given, [Hebrew 08:41] sublimate your anger, don’t keep us in the state of guilt forever. Meet our eyes, [Hebrew 08:48] and grant us peace, what is peace?There are two Hebrew words for peace, [Hebrew 08:55] peace and tranquility. Tranquility that is something that is internal within a system, [Hebrew 09:00] is within a palace but [Hebrew 09:02] that is peace between you and another entity. Let there be peace on your walls, the dividing line between you and the other.
And now, in [Hebrew 09:37] let God grant you peace. When we are separate from God, even when we have sinned before God, at the end of the day, when all the words have been spoken, let God lift his eyes from the floor and meet our gaze as equals look across at us. And when our eyes meet is again a moment of love. It is much more difficult kind of love for a parent to give but to truly be a parent it means to be able to let go and it means to be able to accept your child. Even in the moments when they disappoint us.
It is one thing to look down at a child and to meet his gaze, that is [Hebrew 10:09] it is much harder thing to look across a child and meet his gaze and give him [Hebrew 10:14], give him peace. What gives me the strength to do that, what gives me the strength to accept a child’s separateness? Whether the separateness is good or even sometimes, when it is bad. The answer is the past. If I have given the child [Hebrew 10:28], if I have vested them and I have built them up, if I have protected them and I have smiled at them in delight, I have the wellsprings of love and the past, to be able to draw from. I can remember all those good times and draw strength from them, when the time comes to give them one last gift, the gift of peace. It is the greatest gift that a parent can give.
In the end, [Hebrew 10:51] is a feature of last week’s Parsha, a feature of Naso but how does this week’s Parsha begin? It begins with the command of the priests to take care of the [Hebrew 11:01], to ensure that the [Hebrew 11:03] is, all night long in the temple. I would like to suggest that if Naso is about the theory of [Hebrew 11:10] the beginning of Behaalotecha, our Parsha is about its pracrice. If you go back to our earlier Parsha videos, [Hebrew 11:16] we talked about the Mishkan as an embodiment, as it were of God’s face. It is how God comes to express himself in the world, the way a human being expresses himself through his face. If the Mishkan is God’s face as it were in the world then the Minora is the light, the light that God shines towards us. [Hebrew 11:36] it is the grace that God bestows, the unconditional love.
There are three kinds of love that the [Hebrew 11:44] speaks of, [Hebrew 11:46], compassion, [Hebrew 11:48] unconditional love and then love between equals, love when I let you go your separate way, when I grant you the gift of peace with me. It is no coincidence that the children of Aaron first gave this blessing upon the completion of [Hebrew 12:04] God’s face in the world. Once the [Hebrew 12:08] was complete, the blessing of Aaron’s children was that God’s love should continue forever, to radiate into our lives.
I want to end with a short kind of personal suggestion, [Hebrew 12:20] is something which I would say to my children every Friday night. This understanding gives me personally more of a handle on what it is that I am saying. It makes those moments with my children more meaningful to me. If you don’t bless your children, on Friday nights or any other time regularly, consider doing so, consider using these precious words of [Hebrew 12:40] and bestowing them upon your child and children love it. They are so delighted to be blessed by their parents. As your child comes over to you, use those few moments to think about these three kinds of parental love and ask yourself, at this stage in my child’s life which one of those kinds of parental love could this child use? Do they need to be built up, do they need to be guarded, maybe they need just a smile that says I am so delighted with them, maybe they need to see more of that, the [Hebrew 13:07] or maybe they need peace, maybe they need me to pick up their chin, to look them in the eye and tell them that I can go forward with them to love even when they have chose differently than I have, I wish you could try this.
1. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
2. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
3. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
4. Ki Tavo: Answer
5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
10. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
15. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
16. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
17. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
18. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
19. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
20. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
21. Korach: Can We Influence God?
22. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
23. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
24. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
25. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
26. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
27. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
28. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
31. Metzora: Living Within the Community
32. Tazria: The Bizarre Purification of the Metzora
33. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
34. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
35. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
36. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
37. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
38. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
39. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
40. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
41. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
42. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
43. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
44. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
45. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
46. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
47. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
48. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
49. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
50. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
51. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
52. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
53. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
54. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
55. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
56. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
57. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
58. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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