Rabbi Daniel Stein
Rabbi Daniel Stein

Speak to Them!

One of the most fundamental assumptions of Torah learning is that there aren't any superfluous letters, words, or pesukim in the Torah. Certainly, entire parshiyos are only repeated in order to teach a crucial lesson. Therefore, the rishonim wonder why the Torah in Parshas Naso would spend an inordinate amount of time and space itemizing the korbanos brought by each individual nasi as part of the dedication of the mishkan, particularly given the fact that all of them brought the identical combination of sacrifices. The Torah could have conserved many verses by simply stating at the outset that all twelve of the nesiim brought the following arrangement of korbanos. Why does the Chumash list all of their korbanos in such detail again and again? The Ramban suggests that perhaps the Torah goes to these great lengths in order to honor each individual nasi and to underscore the significance of their personal contribution. In other words, all of these pesukim were expended in order to make the nesiim feel important. This is indeed striking when one considers the fact the Torah dedicates 89 pesukim in Parshas Naso to its description of the korbanos of the nesiim while the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, occupy only 36 pesukim, 18 in Parshas Yisro and 18 in Parshas Vaeschanan! Perhaps the Torah is instructing us by example that it is appropriate and worthwhile to expend an overabundance of time talking and conversing with others, even if it is only in order to make them feel important.

Too often we find ourselves unable to show an interest in the problems of others because we are ensconced in our own affairs, and this is indeed a terrible plague. The pasuk states with regards to the plague of darkness, "They did not see each other, and no one rose from his place for three days" (Shemos 10:23). The Chiddushei HaRim observes that sometimes the greatest plague in life is when people can't "see each other", when everyone is so focused on their own lives and problems that they are unable to pause and consider the struggles of someone else. We must realize that sometimes relief and salvation in our own lives can only be achieved by looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others. It is not coincidental that the sequence of events that led to Yosef's redemption from prison in Egypt only commenced when he removed himself from his own struggles, and expressed an interest in the state of the baker and butler of Pharaoh, by asking them, "Why are your faces sad today?" (Breishis 40:7). Similarly, the Torah in Parshas Naso is modeling for us the imperative of being proactive in cultivating the sensitivity to see beyond our own activities, to seek out and talk to others, even if it appears to be the same conversation again and again.

Arguably, there is no trait that is more "Jewish" than taking the time to inquire and talk to others. In Parshas Vayishlach the Torah describes how Yaakov was seized upon by "a man" who "wrestled with him until the break of dawn" (32:25). This "man" is identified by Chazal as the angel of Esav. However, in Parshas Vayeishev, Yosef encounters another "man", as the pasuk states, "a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?" (37:15.) In this instance, Chazal identify the "man" as the angel Gavriel. On what basis did Chazal distinguish and determine that the "man" referred to in Parshas Vayishlach is the angel of Esav, whereas the "man" mentioned in Parshas Vayeishiv is the angel Gavriel? The Divrei Chaim claims that it is because in Parshas Vayishlach, after the conclusion of the battle, Yaakov asked the "man" for a blessing. The "man" responded, "Let me go, for dawn is breaking," and Chazal explain that he had no time to bless Yaakov for he was rushing to praise Hashem in the morning. Chazal knew that a "man" who couldn't dedicate a moment to talk and bless someone else must be the angel of Esav. However, in Parshas Vayeishev the "man" initiated a conversation with Yosef by asking him, "what are you looking for?" Someone who finds the time to ask after the wellbeing of others must be an angel of good and not the angel of Esav.

This capacity to converse and connect with others perhaps constitutes the basis for the entire institution of birchas kohanim, the priestly blessing, as well. Rav Yosef Albo, in his Sefer Haikrim (4:19) raises the philosophical dilemma regarding the effectiveness of any blessing received from a kohen, priest, or tzaddik. If one is inherently worthy than why is the berachah necessary, and if one is not independently entitled how does the berachah help? The Sefer Haikrim resolves that the blessing creates an emotional conduit or bridge between the individual and the kohen, allowing the recipient to uplift their own personal status by virtue of their dependence and association with the kohen. It is in order to establish this benevolent bond that the kohen must extend his hands towards the recipient whilst bestowing the berachah. The Meor Vashemesh writes that this intimate affiliation is forged with affection and love, as is evident from the text of the blessing that the kohen recites prior to the birchas kohanim which includes the phrase, "to bless Your nation Israel with love." For this reason, the Magen Avraham (128:18) cites the Zohar which infers that if the kohen despises or does not care for his constituents his blessing will also be ineffective.

How should the kohen go about initially establishing this loving relationship with the recipient and all of Klal Yisrael which serves as the backdrop for birchas kohanim? The Meor Vashemesh continues that the critical ingredient is alluded to in the pasuk which introduces the topic of birchas kohanim, "Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them" (Bamidbar 6:23). The pasuk stresses the importance of speech numerous times, perhaps intimating that the way to engender the measure of love necessary for birchas kohanim to take effect is by speaking to others. If we invest the time to speak to others and demonstrate a genuine interest in them, we can create the foundation of empathy and camaraderie that is needed for transmitting and receiving all of the blessings of Hashem. May we all make the effort to find time in our own schedule to speak with others and sincerely inquire after their wellbeing, and thereby merit all of the blessings of birchas kohanim as well as the ultimate salvation in our own days!

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