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Rabbi Aba Wagensberg

One of the highlights of Parshas Naso is the Priestly Blessing. The text of this blessing, which the Kohanim bestow upon the Jewish people, concludes, “May God turn His face to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26).

Our Sages speak very highly of the quality of peace. For example, we find the statement in the Midrash (Bamidbar Raba 11:7) in the name of R’ Shimon bar Chalafta, “Great is peace, for there is no ‘vessel’ that can receive blessing other than peace.” The Midrash brings a proof to this idea from the verse (Psalms 29:11), “God will bless His nation with peace” (also see Uktzin, chap. 3, “Yesh Tzrichin” Mishna 12).
We can understand this idea more deeply by taking a closer look at the Scriptural phrase, “His nation.” The Jewish “nation” is composed of three categories of people: Priests (Kohanim), Levites (Leviim), and Israelites (Yisraelim). The Hebrew acronym of the words “Kohanim,” “Leviim,” and “Yisraelim” spells the word “kli”, which means “vessel.” Once we understand that the Jewish people themselves are a vessel, we can gain a more profound insight into the Midrash’s statement. The vessel of the Jewish people can receive blessing only when there is peace!
We can offer four primary pieces of advice for how to achieve peace with others:
1) Make sure that all our efforts are for God’s sake. If we do everything for the honor of God, and not for the sake of boosting our own ego, we can view one another as part of the same team, pooling all of our different strengths and talents for a common goal.
2) Train ourselves to see only the good in others. Instead of being threatened or challenged by others’ differences, view the differences as positive qualities.
3) The Peleh Yoetz (Rabbi Eliezer Papo, Constantinople 1824) suggests that we should focus on the reward we receive for making peace, as an incentive to pursue it. He gives a striking example. Imagine a person approaches you and asks you to make peace with someone you can’t stand. Your initial reaction is to immediately turn down the offer. Then the person asks, “What if I give you $50? Do you think you could try? How about $100? Or $1,000? If I give you $100,000, could you do it? How about two million dollars?” There is a point at which every person would give in and decide it is worth the effort to make peace. The reward we get in the World to Come for making peace far outweighs any financial bonus this world can offer. This knowledge should be an incentive to us to make peace.
4) Making peace sometimes requires us to compromise or to give in. We can do this only if we cultivate our humility and learn to be satisfied with the minimum.
THREE LEVITE FAMILIES
Although these four points are important, we can also suggest another approach in understanding God’s expectation of us when it comes to peace. The beginning of this week’s Torah portion focuses on the tribe of Levi, which is composed of three main families: Kehas, Gershon, and Merari. Based on the Shem MiShmuel and the Netivos Shalom, we can understand these three families as representing three spiritual levels.
The family of Kehas represents the highest, most righteous level. Their role is to carry the Holy Ark (Rashi Nu. 4:4) – the highest component of the Tabernacle. The importance of this task underscores their lofty spiritual level.
The family of Gershon represents the middle level. They carry the curtain that divides the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary (Nu. 4:25). One side of the curtain is close to the intense sanctity of the Holy of Holies, while the other side is not. We could suggest that this curtain hints to the spiritual level of an average person, who fluctuates between moments of intense devotion and moments of feeling less connected to the Divine.
The family of Merari represents the lowest level. They carry the beams and pillars of the Sanctuary (Nu. 4:31), the weight of which can be burdensome. This physical weight represents the heaviness of the lowest spiritual level.
The tribe of Levi is charged with teaching the Jewish people how to attach themselves to the Divine (see Rambam, “Shmita V’Yovel,” 13:12-13). The three main families in this tribe show us that we are required to serve God not only when we are on a spiritual high, like the most righteous people, and not only when we feel average, but even when we feel the lowest and furthest away from God. Regardless of the emotional state in which we find ourselves, we must commit ourselves to doing God’s will with a positive attitude.
This idea will offer us a new perspective on God’s expectation of peace. In addition to being at peace with others, we must learn to be at peace with ourselves – whatever level we are functioning on. When we are frustrated with ourselves, it is much more likely that we will lash out at others. Being at peace with ourselves, however, usually leads to our being at peace with others. If we can learn from the tribe of Levi how to maintain our inner equilibrium, we have a much better chance at establishing peace with others as well.
One practical application of this teaching would be to concentrate on these Priestly Blessings every day after the recitation of Birchas HaTorah or during Birchas Kohanim in Eretz Yisrael. Focus particularly on the last word, “Shalom.” Pause for a moment and ask how we are going to increase peace in our lives, even just a little bit.
This may manifest itself by simply going over to a person we do not particularly care for and saying, “Good morning” with a smile on our faces. One could also thank a spouse for something that usually gets taken for granted. A child can be told how proud of him or her we are. We could also go out of our way to help a relative, friend, neighbor, or co-worker by tending to a chore that would ease that person’s day.
May we be blessed to cultivate within ourselves the four primary qualities that lead to peace: acting only for God’s sake; seeing the good in others; focusing on the rewards earned through this behavior; and being humble and satisfied with the minimum, which will enable us to compromise. Most important, may we learn to be at peace with ourselves. May we recognize the worth of our service, even at its lowest point, and realize that, even then, we have the potential to function at the highest of levels.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg

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