June 4, 2020
Parashat Naso – Everyone Has the Right to Feel Blessed
This week, a member of our community told of how tired her Black American step daughter is; not tired because she is a front-line health worker, but tired because of the strain of being a Black woman in America. And I hear from other friends something I know but forget, and is not always spoken: Black Americans are always afraid. Driving-While-Black, DWB, is always a [crazy] real cause of anxiety and a cause for extra care. Even in Vancouver, we have heard an Or Shalom community member say that an important piece of life-and-death advice she has given to her bi-racial nephew is: “don’t go out with your sweatshirt hood up over your head, especially at night.” A young Jewish teen in our kahal had to learn that how he wears his sweatshirt matters to his survival.
This week’s parsha includes the Priestly Blessing, the blessing first offered by the priestly class to the rest of Israel, and which, over time, became the traditional parental blessing for all children. And I cannot help but feel the deepest remorse and despair knowing that not all children and children of God (i.e. people) are equally blessed in society as we run it. Every child has a right to feel mevorach (yevarechecha) – blessed, nishmar (v’yismerecha) – safe, maor (yaer) – utterly luminous, u-mechunak (vi-chu-neka) – and intrinsically loved by the world. Every child deserves to feel naso (yisa) – lifted and celebrated, and, of course, Shalom – peace. And it’s not enough to offer these blessings to our own children. We must ensure the experience of safety and of being valued, of feeling blessed and experiencing a peaceful environment for all children and children of God.
What might help us to meet the challenge of enlarging the circle of blessing is to remember that there is only a hair of difference between us and them, between racism and anti-Semitism. There, but for the grace of God go we. But in that hair of a difference is the good fortune of our social and economic power. Even as an historically marginalized people we are presently graced with privilege. With that privilege comes our very Jewish sense of responsibility to use it for justice and the emancipation of others, and for expression of radical love. Simple as it sounds, the Talmudic Rabbi Hillel’s condensation of Torah prevails. Loving others as ourselves is at the base of all Jewish law and practice because as images of God’s there is no us and them. Denigration of a human is denigration of God.
And did you know that ahavah, the Hebrew word for love, comes from the root hov, meaning action? What might help us enlarge the circle of blessing is to love others in the sense of ahavah, which is not merely a feeling, it’s an enacted feeling. Let’s be brave in our love, especially for those who are different from ourselves. Let’s share our biases in the face of dismantling them and for the sake of spreading blessing until every child feels safe and at ease, their world a nurturing, peaceful haven.