This Hebrew verse is something I always loved and couldn’t wait to be a father to be able to bless my kids with it. Now I get to say it every Friday night to my two sons (דובי & משי) as I place my hands on their heads. I meditate on the meaning of the words and my love for them as I kiss their foreheads.
יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃ יָאֵ֨ר ה’ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃ יִשָּׂ֨א ה’ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם
May God bless you and keep watch over you. May God make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace. May God direct His providence toward you and grant you peace.1
This blessing is also known as the ברכת כהנים/Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, which has been performed since Biblical times. It is said to this day on Shabbat and Holidays, in synagogues across the world. The Levites in the congregation wash the hands of the Priests, and then the cantor leads them through the blessing in a call and response. It’s a beautiful ritual, and the power within it is beyond comprehension.
This blessing is also known as the “lifting of the hands”. I try and read the Kabbalah surrounding the Torah for the week, every day. One Rebbe who, since the time I happened upon his grave in Uman, as I was playing shows in Yalta (The Black Sea) in Ukraine is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Outside of all his Kabbalistic teaching and writing, he’s written mystical stories and one jumped out at me about the importance of praying for your friend in need – to bless them so that you do not become an obstacle for their potential to receive blessings. The three Priestly Blessings break down into three nekudot (points of Godliness): the first, “May God bless you” corresponds to receiving a point of Godliness from a tzaddik, a righteous teacher. The hope is that the one being blessed will receive the Godliness that comes through a tzaddik’s Godly soul, brought down into his teachings/writings. Receiving the second blessing, “May God shine his countenance upon you” corresponds to receiving your friends’ points of Godliness. Every person has a special nekudah/point of light within them that another does not, each is unique and tied to the person’s neshama/soul. This is why it is Jewish tradition to primarily learn with a chevruta (a partner), because each person’s understanding of the Torah is different, and it is only through each other that we can come to the ultimate Truth. The second blessing corresponds to your friend, since whatever love develops between people reveals more of God’s countenance in the world. The third blessing, “May God… grant you peace,” corresponds to receiving the benefit of one’s own nekudah/point of Godliness, which, when developed properly, brings inner peace.2
It’s written in Proverbs, “The generous man will be blessed.” In Hebrew, יְבָרֶכְךָ֥/Yevarech can be read as “will be blessed” or “he will bless”3. So the blessing is dependent on the feelings and intentions of the one who blesses. As The Beatles say, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” So for a true blessing to be given, it must be given with love.
The last word of the last Priestly Blessing is shalom, “peace”. Peace is the vessel that contains every blessing. True shalom/peace is one of the hardest things to achieve. It’s a culmination of perfecting so many aspects within oneself especially faith and positive perspective.
When my mom passed away at the end of October, I started the Don’t Block Your Blessings project in her memory. The objective is to inspire others to focus on the good, get out of their own ways, and make themselves vessels for overflowing blessings. I continuously ask people from all over the world to share their perspectives on navigating the ups and downs of life, and to share what I have dubbed, “Cheat Codes to Happiness.” I want us to inspire each other with the wisdom we’ve picked up in our journeys, how we’ve learned to feel blessed and give blessings.
A blessing means to draw something into your life, it means your potential to reality needs a channel and that channel is called blessings where we reveal what’s there. Lots of people share the idea that a little bit of light takes away a lot of darkness, but they don’t talk about the reason why. The reason why light overcomes darkness is not because it vanquishes darkness, it’s because now you can actually see where to go, you can make the right decisions, you can put yourself in the right opportunities to succeed. The problem in this world is that we don’t really know what exactly to do, we try our best, we learn from others, but we don’t always know what to do. That’s where blessing comes in. The earliest place in Judaism that mentions blessings is where it says that, “Those who bless shall be blessed,” and that means that when you keep the light for yourself, you can’t see the big picture, when you look for blessings and goodness just for yourself, it’s also very difficult, “don’t block your blessings” means, become somebody who gives blessings to other people, be someone who shares light. And when we all know where to go, we’ll find that we can never block each other’s blessings, so we certainly shouldn’t block our own.
The lesson is that when you give and when you bless, do it with love. If you focus on others as you would yourself, then you will love yourself more and, by virtue of that, become love for others.