What's Love Got To Do With It?

This sheet on Numbers 6 was written by Josh Pernick for 929 and can also be found here

“Any kohen (priest) who does not love the nation, or the nation does not love him, cannot raise his hands to bless the nation.” According to the great mystical work known as the Zohar, the requirements on this one aspect of Temple service differ from all other forms of Temple service. No community buy-in is required for a kohen to offer sacrifices or to prepare Temple vessels. There is no popularity contest to determine one’s fitness for the priesthood in general. And yet when it comes to the Torah’s command to offer blessings, it is only those kohanim who are in relationship with the community who may perform this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of reciting the priestly blessing immediately follows the Torah’s description of the nazir, a person who chooses to place limitations upon himself to get closer to God. Nazirut represents an ascetic view of religious leadership, a belief that the effective leader is he who differentiates himself from the community. The nazir accepts restrictions intended to alienate him from everyone he loves. This, he might believe, is what it means to be a servant of God

The Torah thus immediately follows its elaboration on nazirut with a description of Birkat Kohanim. While separation and distinction might be one path to spiritual connection, it is not a viable option for the kohen. The kohen is commanded to remember that he is a mere representative of his nation. A kohen who has detached himself from the nation he serves, and who therefore is ineligible to offer this blessing, is said to have violated three commandments. Unlike the nazir, who sees religiosity in alienation and loneliness, the kohen is commanded to see religiosity in connection. This is the Torah’s model of true religious service.

(ב) דַּבֵּר֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אִ֣ישׁ אֽוֹ־אִשָּׁ֗ה כִּ֤י יַפְלִא֙ לִנְדֹּר֙ נֶ֣דֶר נָזִ֔יר לְהַזִּ֖יר לַֽיהֹוָֽה׃
(2) Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If anyone, man or woman, explicitly utters a nazirite’s vow, to set himself apart for the LORD,

Josh Pernick is a fourth-year rabbinical student at YCT and a member of the Hillel Office of Innovation Fellowship for Rabbinic Entrepreneurs.

929 is the number of chapters in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, the formative text of the Jewish heritage. It is also the name of a cutting-edge project dedicated to creating a global Jewish conversation anchored in the Hebrew Bible. 929 English invites Jews everywhere to read and study Tanakh, one chapter a day, Sunday through Thursday together with a website with creative readings and pluralistic interpretations, including audio and video, by a wide range of writers, artists, rabbis, educators, scholars, students and more. As an outgrowth of the web-based platform, 929 English also offers classes, pop-up lectures, events and across North America. We invite you to learn along with us and be part of our dynamic community.

To join 929's listserv for new and dynamic content each week click here