Empowering Blessings- A D’var Torah on Parshat Nasso by Rabbi Sarah | Camp Ramah Northern California

Empowering Blessings- A D’var Torah on Parshat Nasso by Rabbi Sarah

Empowering Blessings

A D’var Torah on Parshat Nasso by Rabbi Sarah

My daughter Lielle was born a few years ago on a Thursday morning. I pressed the doctors to discharge us on Friday so we could return home for Shabbat dinner. Above everything else, I was hungry for a bracha:  

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

May God bless you and protect you.

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

May God shine God’s light to you and be gracious to you!

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃

May God lift God’s face up to your direction and grant you peace (Numbers 6: 24-26).

Placing my hands on little Lielle’s head and saying the words of the Priestly Blessing from this week’s Torah portion as a parent for the first time was a transformative experience. The hairs on my arms stood erect as I felt the verbs in this blessing come alive electrically: to bless, to protect, to illuminate, to be gracious, to look up to, and to enable peace.

Now, one week after our staff have arrived at camp to train and prepare for the arrival of our Session 1 chanichim (campers), I now feel the gift and power of these verbs anew in loco parentis. Tonight I will bless our staff and next week they will bless your children, their chanichim. And in a similar way, each and every day of camp the evolution of the special counselor-camper relationship will evolve into one of greater and greater empowerment as the verbs in the blessing indicate.

The 16th century commentator Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aharon of Luntschitz (Kli Yakar) noted that the directionality of the verses goes from one of above and below, in blessing and protection, in the first verse to one of face to face knowing and supporting another, to one of elevation and peace in the final verse. Just as the relationship between God and the Israelites evolved from Sea to Sinai and beyond, so too do we here at camp witness a miraculous journey of relationships beyond binary, hierarchy, definition, or title. My greatest joy this week during staff training has been to watch the members of our staff, including former campers for the first time, begin to take ownership of everything at camp from Modeh Ani in the morning to putting the camp community to bed with blessings at night.

As we read in the Talmud in Ta’anit 7A from Rabbi Chanina: “I have learned much from my teachers, even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.”  This is the aspiration; this is a pathway to peace. By reading the Priestly Blessing as a pathway of relational evolution as the Kli Yakar guides us, we see that ultimately Shlemut (a state of peace or wholeness) is an expression of the empowerment of those who might have one time been below us but now rise around us. May we all be inspired this Shabbat by the opportunities in our lives, both in and out of camp, to find peace in elevating those around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sarah Shulman