This week’s portion contains the Priestly blessing. Its words, from the Book of Numbers, are well known. ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord shine his face upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord smile kindly at you and give you peace.’
This three-thousand-year-old blessing is still given by the priests to the Jewish People on a daily basis, at least in Israel.
Maimonides, in discussing the laws around this blessing says that a priest who is not a good person is able to give the blessing. But a priest who is antisocial cannot.
I think that this is about rapport. People do not want someone blessing them whom they don’t live in a nice feeling with. If a grumpy, bitter, resentful person wants to do us a favour because they are mandated to do so, we are usually not interested. Favours need to be accompanied by a nice feeling, otherwise they don’t feel like favours. If the person at the till is unpleasant and rude, we will go to a different till. And if there is only one till, we might even go to a different shop. If the person driving the taxi is in a very bad mood, we might even rather get out and walk. In a certain way, when I’m trying to raise money, I prefer a smaller contribution with a smile than a larger one in a reluctant manner (although, don’t get me wrong, I’m always grateful for the larger contribution!). My point is that good feeling, rapport, matters to us.
If the person at the till, on the other hand, is disloyal in their marriage and dishonest with their friends, but smiling and full of goodwill, it likely won’t stop us from engaging with them.
Rightly, or wrongly, this is how we work. Rapport with others matters to us more than their behaviour. We can forgive people who behave badly if they come with a good feeling. But someone who comes with a bad feeling is hard for us to engage with, even if they have not actually done anything wrong.
And so, no one wants a blessing from a grumpy priest. We can do without it. Hence, Jewish law deems his blessing inappropriate. A priest, however, who behaves badly, but lives in a good feeling with those around him, is someone who can still be a conduit for God’s blessings.
I think the idea of rapport is often overlooked in our relationships with others – friends, family, children and especially spouses. We might be going through the right motions, doing the right things, behaving very appropriately. But if our feeling is bad, if we show up in a relationship bitter, resentful, with ill-will, it doesn’t really matter how many boxes we have ticked, the other person is unlikely to feel satisfied. The rabbis tell us (Avos 3:10) that ‘anyone who is pleasing to others, is pleasing to God also’. It is important to behave properly with others, but it is more important to show up with a nice feeling. Rapport trumps behaviour. Every day of the week.
Parsha in a Nutshell
The portion begins with the duties of the Levites in the desert. It then moves on to the fascinating section about a husband who suspects his wife of being unfaithful. Next, we move on to the concept of a Nazerite – someone who makes a vow not to drink wine, cut his hair or become spiritually impure. It’s an unusual combination of vows and there is method in the madness, but it’s for another time. The portion ends with the offerings of the princes of each Tribe, which were brought during the dedication of the Tabernacle. It’s the longest portion in the Torah.