Rabbi Miriam's Blog
May HaShem bless you and keep you; May HaShem make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; May HaShem turn his face toward you and give you peace
Having the Priestly Blessing in this week’s Torah portion brings up some questions for me. First, how do the priests prepare to bless people today. Secondly, who has the right to use the priestly blessing - only the priests among us?
Just a month ago, our congregation participated in the city wide Israel Independence Day Celebration at Rancho Park. It was a wonderful and blessed day for our booth. It was decorated beautifully, we gave treats to anyone who engaged in dialogue with us, and at the end we gave away the treats to everyone. In addition to the Israeli flag and mobiles that decorated our booth, we had a sign outside reading, “Our Rabbi is here and would love to bless you.” At first I felt like Charlie Brown from the famous Peanuts cartoon… but not for long. I was delighted to experience the many people, from all walks of life, Jews and non-Jews, who came into our booth for a blessing from the Rabbi.
As most of you know, I often mention in my Ethics class and in our services that Emet – Truth, is the most important building block in a relationship, whether the relationship is between “me and you,” or in the relationship is between “me and God.” Without truth, as beautiful as it may be, the relationship will deteriorate over time, and crumble at the end. My challenge in the booth was to create TRUTH in my blessing of strangers.
How can I bless them from a truthful space in my heart and desire to connect with God when the loud sound of different park music bands was blaring, and people were waiting in line to be blessed?
The moment a person stepped into our booth and wanted to be blessed, I invited him/her to sit close and across from me, so we were facing one another. At that moment the outside noisy world did not exist any more. I looked into the person’s eyes and thanked the person for being there. I shared my desire to know a little about him/her so that I might bestow upon them a blessing from a truthful space in my soul. I listened intently to every word that they expressed. I empathized and felt their concerns or worries. I never limited their time with me. I was focused on them and their spiritual need. Even in that limited time, the two of us were able to create some precious closeness and intimacy.
I waited for a minute, when I was sure that the person was done sharing his heart with me, I stood up, gently placed my hands on his/her head and proceeded to bestow a personal blessing and also the Priestly Blessing upon him/her. When I was done, I waited another fifteen seconds or so before I took my hand off his head.
My prayer and blessing lasted about two minutes. But in those two minutes I felt as if his world and mine were united. I felt the truthfulness of that moment. In those two minutes I felt almost like a conduit for his “I & Thou” connection. I felt the purity of that moment. I felt the holiness of the moment. Almost everyone was moved, and at times to tears, including myself.
I was not able to prepare myself for the Priestly Benediction the way our priests, the Kohens, prepare in our synagogue. They first wash their hands, remove their shoes, silently recite a short prayer beseeching God that the forthcoming blessing be a “perfect blessing; that it should have no impediment or iniquity.” The Kohen than covers his/her head and upper body with his/her Tallit, and awaits for me to start the benediction in English before their own benediction of our congregants in Hebrew. I had no possibility for most of this preparation, however, I always made time to beseech God in their behalf so that my heart-felt blessing I bestow upon them be from the space of Emet, truth.
May God continue to provide each of us good health and the opportunity to be “Truthful Blessers” of others.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.