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   by Jacob Solomon

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"May G-d bless you and keep you." (6:24)

These words open Birkat Kohanim - the daily Priestly blessing for the Israelites.

Both Rashi and the Sforno present "may G-d bless you and keep you" in material terms. Your affluence should expand and it should stay that way, explains Rashi. Your wealth should be permanent. There should be nothing to take it away from you.

The Sforno takes it one step further, and links the material to the spiritual: gashmiut to ruchniut. Wealth is needed to support Torah life: im ein kemach, ein Torah (Avot 3:15). Thus Birkat Kohanim opens with the necessities for living life according to the teachings of the Torah. A person's avodah (service to G-d) should not suffer the frustrations of struggles for food, clothing, and shelter. Am Yisrael should enjoy the prosperity needed to carry out its service to G-d and Mankind.

Thus the words of Pirkei Avot: "Such is the way of Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the grounds, live in deprivation, and toil in Torah" are not a Torah ideal le-chatchila - in the first instance. As Rashi explains, if your journey towards Torah learning puts you in that position, carry on learning and endure it. But don't look for it. Don't go out of your way to bring hardship on yourself.

Indeed, it is this point that Jacob made when his son Joseph presented him to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh said to Jacob: "How many are the years of your life?"

Jacob answered Pharaoh: "I have been a traveler for 130 years. The years of my life have been few and bad. They did not reach the life-spans of my forefathers in the days they were travelers." (Gen. 47:8-9)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) explains the words: "How many are the years of your life?" as referring to the quality of Jacob's life. He meant: "How many truly meaningful years have there been in your life?" And in response, Jacob assessed his quality of life with: "My 130 years of life are not comparable to the lives of my fathers. They lived more, in the sense that every day of their existence was 'living'. They were able to carry out their missions to humanity under cheerful conditions. Whereas much of my life was tension, struggle, worry, and grief. My own life lacked the quality and thus the achievement of my forbears, Abraham and Isaac."

And that gets to the heart of "May G-d bless you and keep you." May He give you what you need to carry out your Torah-strengthening mission to humanity in abundance, and in cheerful conditions.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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