With Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt.
The Priestly blessing that is said in synagogue at every holiday is in this portion. It ends with a prayer that God should give us “peace”.
This blessing is in the singular, which would indicate that it is a blessing for each individual, not a national blessing. It makes sense to bless a nation with peace; there is probably nothing more fundamental. But on a personal level, while peace with those around us is important, there are surely equally, if not more, important issues. What about health, love, personal satisfaction to name but a few? What exactly is this personal peace and why is it singled out?
The Rabbis, as always, explain.
Every human being is made up of a body and a soul. The soul yearns to be Godly and reach for the skies; the body wants to sleep. That’s quite a dichotomy. And you can sometimes wake up in the morning in the midst of a raging battle. The soul wants to get up and do Godly things. The body clings tightly to its lovely warm pillow. Assuming you do actually make it out of bed, the soul now wants to get on with meaningful accomplishment, while the body urgently wants to escape into the newspaper, the television or anything it can find – the more mindless, the better. The soul wants a healthy (and maybe even kosher) breakfast; the body wants bacon, sausages and pancakes with whipped cream. The soul wants to smile and reach out to the other beautiful souls on the Tube. The body wants you to look as miserable as you can – after all, you dragged it out of bed this morning. The soul wants you to be full of life and energy for your day. The body wants you to mope around depressed. The soul wants you to have meaningful relationships with people – especially those of the opposite sex, while the body wants you to chew on them until you don’t need them any more, then spit out the bones. The body wants drugs and other stimuli to help it escape reality. The soul wants to engage in reality. Etcetera, etcetera.
The battle is constant. There is hardly a situation in life in which the two do not have diametrically different preferences. We are faced with constant turmoil and it is peace from this turmoil to which the priestly blessing refers.
The rabbis say there is only one way to peace. The soul will never make peace with the body; its drive for Godliness is too deep. But, given time, the body can learn to enjoy the pleasures of the soul. Give in to the desires and passions of the body, say our sages, and you will be in turmoil forever. Direct yourself towards life as a soul, however, and peace becomes a real possibility. This sense of inner harmony and completeness is what all human beings are ultimately searching for. As such, it is fitting that the priests bless us with this above all else.