Parshat Naso • Numbers 4:21–7:89

In this weeks Torah Portion, Parashat Naso, we read the priestly benediction: a threefold blessing we recite on Shabbat over our children, at conversions, and other moments of blessing. The blessing goes as follows:

May God bless you and keep you

May God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you

May God’s presence be with you and grant you peace

How might it change your reading of this prayer if we understood God not as a noun, but rather a verb or adjective? What if “Yud Hey Vav Hey” was not God’s divine name as often is said but rather are the divine actions we are capable of performing. That we are not praying to God, but rather to our best selves. That God and prayer become the actions we do that allow holiness to enter our world.

This idea was proposed by a Rabbi in the 1950’s named Mordecai Kaplan. Kaplan suggested that “To believe in God means to accept life on the assumption that it harbors conditions in the outer world and drives in the human spirit which together impel man to transcend himself. To believe in God means to take for granted that it is man’s destiny to rise above the brute and to eliminate all forms of violence and exploitation from human society. In brief, God is the Power in the cosmos that gives human life the direction that enables the human being to reflect the image of God.” (Sonsino, Rifat. The Many Faces of God: A Reader of Modern Jewish Theologies. 2004, page 22–23).

In other words, God is the spirit within all of us that compels us to act for good. Therefore when someone acts in such a way as to destroy or uses God to carry out an act of hate they are not acting Godly. One way to understand the shooter in Orlando this past week is to say he was shutting out the Godly in himself by doing what he did. With understanding God not as force that commands us from outside, but rather a voice that commands us from within to act upon the world, we can see these murderess actions for what they actually were, the acts of a selfish narrascist. The mark he left was mark of destruction not divinity. It was not an act of transcendence. He did not rise above anything internal. Rather he merely used God as an excuse to rationalize what he wanted to do, which was to destroy. When we understand God as a noun this type of fanatical behavior becomes much easier to justify. However, when we begin to understand God as a verb or adjective suddenly we become much more responsible for our actions. Therefore rather than the priestly benediction being award for acting out God’s will, perhaps it is call to a certain action that will bring a certain reward. Therefore perhaps we should understand the priestly benediciton in the following way:

May you cause through your holy actions blessing and protection

Your sacred actions will cause holiness and graciousness to emanate from you

External holy acts will allow divinity to turn inward towards you, and as a result you will granted peace

Rabbi Micah Ellenson