Our parsha covers several seemingly unrelated topics. We have the census of the Levites. It then moves to the laws of the sotah, this cringey section to modern ears that details how to handle a husband’s suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful. He brings her before the kohen who makes a concoction of water and dust from the floor of the Mishkan. He then writes a curse on parchment and dissolves the words in the solution. She is required to drink it. If she is guilty it is supposed to make her infertile. If not, then she is absolved and even becomes more fertile.
The text moves on to laws of the nazir. A person may voluntarily make a nazirite vow where for a time they do not consume wine or even eat grapes, do not cut their hair, and do not come into contact with the dead.
The next topic deals with Birkat Kohanim, the prescribed ritual of the priests blessing the people. We are all familiar with this. These words are recited by our chazzan at the end of the Amidah and parents recite this over their children on Erev Shabbat.
יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָֹ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָיָאֵ֨ר יְהוָֹ֧ה | פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽיִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָֹ֤ה | פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם
May Adonai bless you and watch over you.
May Adonai cause His face to shine to you and favor you.
May Adonai lift His face toward you and grant you peace.
Then finally our parsha describes in detail the leaders of each tribe bringing gifts for the inauguration of the altar.
Like I said, these all are seemingly random and unrelated laws and events. But I think that there is one unifying element here and that is the last word of the Birkat Kohanim; “shalom”. The priest prays that we be granted peace. This word means much more than simply absence of conflict. Shalom means completeness, wholeness. As a matter of fact, I think that it is possible to have shalom in the midst of conflict. If we truly care about and love others, even our enemies, we can work through conflicts with them in a peaceful and loving way. Proverbs says “When a man’s ways please Adonai, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Another related term used for this is “shleimut”, which comes from the same root. It means wholeness. This is the goal of the Torah. God created diversity in the universe but wants it to be a place of mutual blessing. Unlike our culture today that seeks to obliterate diversity or ignore it, the Torah embraces diversity but it is diversity with shleimut; peace, harmony, blessing, and wholeness. It is expressed in Isaiah’s vision of a Messianic future where the wolf lies down with the lamb and a child is not harmed by the viper. It is a principle at the core of the establishment of Israel. There is a difference between Jew and Gentile, but they are meant to live in harmonious blessing with one another.
We see shleimut at work in the taking of the census of the Levites. Each family unit within the tribe are given special duties so that none feel left out.
We see it at work with the laws of the Sotah. God so greatly desires that there be peace between husband and wife that He is even willing to have His name blotted out by being dissolved in the water.
We see it at work with the Nazir. Having a difference between priest and non-priest within the People of Israel could lead to tensions, people feeling left out, or feeling second-rate because they are not priests. The nazirite vow allows a person to become like a priest for a period of time.
And we even see it at work with the seemingly unnecessary detailed description of the various heads of the tribes bringing gifts. Each leader brings the exact same items. But this means that there is no special status for any of the tribes and therefore brings peace.
Going back to the prophet Isaiah. He says that the Messiah is “sar shalom/prince of peace”. Yeshua indeed is the Prince of Peace. He said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” Through his death and resurrection he brings peace between us and Hashem, but he also brings us peace with others as we live by his Holy Torah, empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh.
Rav Shaul reflects this when he says to the congregation in Rome “The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Ruach HaKodesh.” Yaakov, James, Yeshua’s brother, declares “...the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
We are in a world wracked with hatred, conflict and little peace. We are not whole, we do not have shleimut. We currently have Russian troops massing at the border of Ukraine, China persecuting the Uyghur people, and Hamas launching rockets at Israel. We have a huge rise in anti-Semitism, racial disparities, and hatred towards people of different races, religions and sexual orientations. Just this past week Ken and Eva were verbally abused and threatened for flying an Israeli flag.
As Jews, and especially as Messianic Jews, we are priests to the world. We are called upon to be like our forefather, Aharon, and be pursuers of peace like he was. Our job is to bring shleimut into our society, country, and our world.
The fact is that we are not whole either. This sometimes impedes our ability to bring peace and wholeness to others. The priestly benediction is recited on Shabbat and major holidays. Some congregations disallow people who are of priestly descent from performing the ritual if they are not Torah observant. Others argue that this is wrong, because it is not the priests giving the blessing; they are merely conduits of Hashem’s blessing. I agree with this second opinion. We can be conduits of Hashem’s blessing even though we are imperfect.
We as Hashem’s priests bring His peace to the world, by not just reciting the words, but being the words.
יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָֹ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ
Do we bless others and watch over them?
יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָֹ֧ה | פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽ Do we shine upon others and favor them?
יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָֹ֤ה | פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם
Do we lift our faces towards others and give them peace?
Years ago I saw Ben Zander, a former conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and a motivational speaker. He said that his core question is “Who am I being that is stopping others from having a gleam in their eye.” This is a central question for us as we attempt to bring shleimut to this confused and conflict torn world.
We are called to bring peace to the world. We can be God’s conduits, even in the midst of our own lack of wholeness, by keeping ourselves focused on Hashem.
May we be a blessing to others and watch over them.
May we shine our faces upon others, causing theirs to shine in return.
May we give others dignity by lifting our faces towards them, acknowledging them.
Then we too will be princes and princesses of peace, following our master, Yeshua Rabbenu, the True Prince of Peace.