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A Beautiful Blessing

Sitting in church, Kathy gives the homilist the full impact of her gaze. Her look is direct, her eyes alert, her smile warm; at the very least, she presents a thoughtful, responsive facial expression.

You might think Kathy is a friend of the homilist, or is enthralled by what she is hearing. In fact, she is warm and responsive towards every homilist and speaker, of whatever age, gender, spirituality, culture, and regardless of talent. Being experienced in public speaking herself, she understands how difficult it is to stand before a group, the courage it takes to present a point of view, the energy it takes to prepare and deliver a talk. So she uses her facial expression to communicate support, encouragement, solidarity, compassion. She ‘lifts up her face’ as an everyday gift of love.

Who else do we know who ‘lifts up their face’? How about God! At least that’s how Scripture describes the divine love. Recall how the Psalms describe God’s face as ‘turning’ and ‘shining.’ Recall how Moses’ face shone after encountering the Lord’s glory with unprecedented directness. Then there is that beautiful passage in the Book of Numbers known as ‘Aaron’s Blessing’ - or the 'Aaronic Benediction', deeply embedded in Jewish spiritual life:

May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord shine his face upon you and favour you! May the Lord lift up his face toward you and grant you shalom!

Number 6:24-26 (see translation by Everett Fox)

Click here to enjoy a musical rendition of these verses, in English and in Hebrew.

Lovely luminous imagery fills this blessing, along with poetic rhythm and a sense of comfort. The Lord draws near, with face lifted towards us in a gaze of pleasure and affection. Indeed, the text could read: ‘May the Lord smile on you.’

Note the pairs of divine actions: bless and keep, shine and favour, lift up and grant peace? Why might these actions be paired as they are? Jewish storytelling traditions (midrash) suggest that one action is consequential to the other. Thus, if you receive a blessing (gift), then it needs to be kept (protected) or it may be lost or stolen from us.

Then again, the three verses are sometimes interpreted as having an ascending order: a blessing of material goods (food, shelter), followed by a blessing of spiritual qualities, and finally the promise of shalom as the combination of the first two, i.e., peace in its fullest sense. The midrash highlights this climax through a series of statements about the greatness of peace and how fitting it is as the ‘seal’ to the blessings: e.g.:

‘The blessings are of no avail unless peace goes with them… Great is peace, for it was given to the meek; as it says, But the humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace (Ps. 37: 11). Great is peace, for it outweighs everything.’

- Numbers Rabbah 11: 7

In this last statement, can we hear echoes of the Beatitudes (‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’)? We might ponder how Jesus, a faithful Jew, was influenced by verses of blessing in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Aaron’s Blessing is a prayer that lends itself to Christian home-based spirituality practices. Deeply rooted in Scripture, it is a powerful prayer, yet also gentle and unlikely to offend, even where diverse levels of religious commitment are present under the one roof. You may wish to introduce ‘Aaron’s Blessing’ as part of extended family or community gatherings. Or bless young children before they sleep by laying hands and praying Aaron’s Blessing. Remind them that God is smiling at them; and check your own face: the medium is the message! •

Bibliography: Fox, The Five Books of Moses (New York, 1995); Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar (New York, n.p.d.); Midrash Rabbah: Numbers Vol 1; (New York: Soncino, 1983).

© Teresa Pirola, 2012, 2021. Reproduction for non-commercial use is permitted with acknowledgement of website.


Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry arising from the Catholic community, encouraging Christians to reflect on Torah with the help of Jewish insights. More... The reflection above refers to Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21 - 7:89), the Torah portion read for this Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom!

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