Commentary to the NEW YEAR BLESSING
NEW YEAR BLESSING - Num 6:22-27 - Click here to go to the video
THE TEXT BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF THE VIDEO COMMENTARY BY FR. FERNANDO ARMELLINI
Happy New Year for all, sisters and brothers.
We have already exchanged many "new year" greetings and what can we now expect from the word of God for this new year, but to start with a blessing: “The LORD bless you and keep you!” These are the first words we hear on this first day of the year and I think there is no better greeting. I would love that my brothers and sisters of the faith give this greeting back to me on this day: "May the Lord bless you" - beautiful.
What does "to bless", "blessing" mean, words that are frequently mentioned in the Bible? They are mentioned 617 times in the Old and New Testaments. In the Bible, blessings are said very often. What does this verb 'bless' mean? It is enough to open a bible and from the beginning where the Creator, after having created the fish and the birds, the sacred text says: "He blessed them saying: be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters of the sea and let those who fly fill the sky. Be fecund and multiply." This is the blessing. It means fertility, life.
This is what happens to the person who is blessed with the fullness of fertility and life. In the same way, the blessing is also for humans: 'be fruitful and multiply and fill the face of the earth and subjugate it, with dominion over all creatures.' Noah is also blessed in the same way after the flood, he and his children: ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ To bless means precisely this, LIFE. To bless means to want life, to love life, to wish for the other to enjoy the fullness of a joyful and beautiful life. This wish, “May the Lord bless you,” fills you with life and joy.
We know three types of blessings. The first is the simplest and the most immediate is the blessing that we wish to each other. We are all called to bless the brother or sister who is at our side; to wish him or her a happy life. The most desired blessing in Israel was that which the father gave to the children before he died. the wish of prosperity, of fruitfulness, of a united, numerous family.
The Bible recalls several of these blessings: that of Isaac who blesses Jacob, who also blesses his twin brother Esau, then he, in turn, blesses his sons who were to give rise to as many as twelve tribes, the twelve tribes of Israel. This is Jacob’s blessing. What happens to the person who blesses his brother next door? It augurs love, augurs all the goods to that person. This is not reduced to a superficial augury but must lead to some concrete action.
In the same way that if we find a person on a day like today and we have said: 'Happy New Year ...' and then each goes away. NO. The one who blesses in the biblical sense wants joy and the life of the other person, and declares himself available within his means, so that the desire of the blessing will come true.
The opposite is 'to curse'. In Hebrew: ARUR. What happened when one was cursed? Imagine the people of Israel in the desert, and if someone from the group has committed a crime, he was 'cursed'. It meant that he was expelled from the group, had to go far away ... 'Go alone to the desert; you are excluded from our community.' To curse him means to deprive him of life, of the meeting where love is shared. 'You should go alone to the desert,' it was practically a death sentence, away from the community. If the blessing could be formulated like this: 'I want you to live, I'm glad that you exist', the formula of the curse is: 'I do not want you to live, that you exist.' In short, 'the world would fare much better if you did not exist.' This is the curse... Not that we want to kill him, but if an illness comes, we will not cry.
A Christian can only bless, never to curse, never to exclude someone from our responsibility so that the person may be happy. A Christian is always on the side of life and, therefore, of blessing, even for the enemy. Remember the words of Jesus: "Bless those who curse you." In the letter to the Romans, chapter 14, Paul says: "Bless those who persecute you." Bless, do not curse. A Christian never wants something that leads to death for the brother or sister.
We all need to feel blessed by the brothers. We would all be happier if we knew that the other appreciates our life. It is beautiful to feel these words of blessing from a Christian, especially when it is difficult to pronounce them, as one may feel prone to curse.
The blessing is therapy for our resentment, for our tantrums, for our closure to dialogue, incomprehension, non-acceptance of diversity, of the limits and defects of the other. Everyone must always be blessed. When we bless, we always become more aware of being children of the one Father, the God of life. This is the first blessing: the one we wish from person to person. The Christian must only bless. Be willing to love the life of the brother and sister.
In the Bible we find another formula of blessing: that in which the person blesses God. If at first, we bless the person next to us, now we look up to bless God. What does it mean to 'bless God'? It is true that we cannot desire 'life' for God. To bless God means recognizing that He is the Lord of life. It means becoming aware that everything that is love that produces joy comes from Him. Every creature has been a gift from Him, it is a gift for life, that must always be used for life, never for death. When we bless God, we become aware of this reality: creatures are a gift from God and must be used only for life.
When we bless God, we put ourselves in the right relationship with the creation. In Israel, up to the present, before taking any food, it was necessary to pronounce the blessing, to recognize that it comes from God. 'Blessed are You, Lord, God of the universe, who gave me this for food.' Because everything is given by God for life.
In the treatise on the blessings of the Talmud, the 'Berakot' is said that whoever enjoys anything of this world, without pronouncing the blessing, commits the sin of appropriation.
If you do not bless God it means that you consider it as something that belongs to you what is instead of God. All possessive adjectives are a lie. Everything belongs to God. It has been consigned to us to use these created things for life.
The story goes that a rabbi set aside his savings because every year he wanted to buy all the fruits produced, not because of being greedy, but because before tasting these fruits he was to pronounce the blessing for the gift of God. And at the end of the year, he was happy because he had thanked God for all his gifts. This blessing is to say that the person who pronounces this blessing is not the owner. Everything belongs to God. Everything must be used according to his design. The goods are abundant and are destined for all the sons and daughters of God to have life. Hence the importance of pronouncing the blessing on every creature that we use.
We will avoid using created things out of egoism, of greed, of the desire to accumulate. NO. We must pronounce this blessing often to claim the truth about created things. There is a third form of blessing. We already saw the one that addresses the brothers and sisters, then, looking up, the blessing we direct to God and what that means.
Now we will see the third formula of blessing: the one that descends from God. It is the one from our text, we listen:
“The LORD said to Moses: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Before anything, I will make some observation about this text so that we realize how sacred this text is and with what respect and devotion should be proclaimed. First of all, it is a formula of blessing that must be pronounced only by the priests. They are the only mediators of these words that descend from God, who descend from heaven. Therefore, only the 'cohen', the priests, those who are descendant of the priestly family, could bless those present at the end of the sacrifice in the temple. You can see them in the background. The priests, after the sacrifice, they spread their hands over the people and pronounce this blessing from the book of Numbers. Even now, it is only the 'cohanim', the priests who invoke the blessing at the end of the liturgy in the synagogue, on Saturday.
Notice how the fingers of the priests' hands should be opened as shown in the background. I will not go into the details of the symbolic meaning. I will limit myself to saying that the position of those fingers has a meaning that refers to a Hebrew word KOAJ meaning ‘force’ for those hands must communicate this life force contained in the words uttered by the 'cohen'.
Second observation: this blessing is introduced by a provision given by Moses to the priests: 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them... (Num 6:23); and then comes the blessing. This 'this is how' has been interpreted by the rabbis in this way: 'this blessing cannot be pronounced in another language, it must be pronounced 'like that', to be valid and effective. So, in Hebrew, only this sacred language can keep the meaning contained in this blessing.
Remember that in the time of Jesus Aramaic was spoken, but this blessing was pronounced in Hebrew. Notice in the background this blessing in Hebrew. As you can see, there is a triple formula of blessing which is expressed in crescendo.
Even one who does not know Hebrew can see that the formula of the first blessing is composed of three words, the second formula of 5 words and the third formula—in crescendo—of 7 words. It is about three very important and sacred numbers in Israel. The number 3 is a symbol of perfection. The number 5 symbol of the people of Israel and then the number 7, that has the word 'shalom', is the fullness of joy and life, it cannot be any another number than the 7. Then, the sum of all these words: 3 + 5 + 7 = 15. The number 15 is the numerical value of the Name of the Lord: "YA".
The Hebrews composed this blessing with these measures to show how solemn this text is, and how sacred it is. We are going to examine it because today this blessing is pronounced at the beginning of the year and must accompany us throughout the year pronounced by all the priests, even if they do not spread their hands because they are not 'cohanim' and out of respect for the priests of Israel, but, nevertheless, this blessing will be read.
These first three words of the blessing have the name of God in the center, ineffable, that I have replaced, according to Hebrew custom, with "Adonai". This sacred name will be repeated three times, this name of God, in these three blessings. And in the first it is asked that "The Lord bless you and keep you." We already said what it means to 'bless': that He will fill you with life, that He will free you, keep you from every form of death. It also refers to biological life which is very important and, therefore, the desire that the Lord also grant you good health, that you be well, that you lack nothing of what is necessary for you.
But if it is only the biological life, it is not full life; it is not authentic human life. To survive is not enough. More than biological life, this blessing asks the Lord for a life with meaning. That is, may the Lord guide you, with his light,so that your life be not only a survival; that this year you could give the best of yourself in the construction of God's design on the world. In fact, outside of this design of the Creator, your life will not make sense; it will be ephemeral; a biological life of which no trace will remain. So, may the Lord give you good health, but, especially, a life full of meaning, a life that leaves traces of your passage through this world. That this be not a wasted year.
"And keep you." The Hebrew word, from the verb 'vishmor' does not mean to have God observing us, in the sense that God will be looking at all our mistakes and then asking the angels to take notes, so later we will have to give an account of it. This is not the meaning of the Lord having us under his gaze. It is the shepherd's mission: the shepherd who watches over his flock so that they be not in danger of death. This is what is requested in this first blessing. May the Lord protect you and keep you, as the shepherd does. Do not let yourself be seduced by other shepherds, which may be your instincts or the people who want to take you out of the way, who can lead you to do evil things and so you will not be happy. May the Lord protect you and keep you this year… that He always keep his eyes on you.
Second formula of the blessing: The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you
We recognize people by their face. And by the face we know if a person is a friend or an enemy. If he or she is one who wants to do us good or wants to do us some evil. If you are happy or sad. If he or she is serene or full of problems. If they are distressed and perhaps need a word of comfort and hope. Or, maybe, need a correction. Then, we recognize people by their faces.
Today we do not see the face of the people anymore. If we go by bus, we no longer see the faces; all are abstracted with their cell phone and I cannot communicate with a person I do not know, that I do not see. How do I relate to a person whose face I do not see? What is required in this second blessing? "The LORD let his face shine upon you.” This means: to make you see His face and to be a radiant, smiling face. It’s beautiful… We want to see God smiling! What are we saying when we ask for this? We are saying that when He contemplates our life it can be a source of joy for Him; that He can smile, be pleased with us, his sons and daughters because we are well, because we resemble Him, because whoever finds us, mentions things that make the Father in heaven smile. Jesus has always made the Father smile.
Remember the words of the Father during the baptism in the Jordan: "This is my Son in whom I am pleased." God smiles when we resemble Him. "And be gracious to you" - 'vijumeja' - 'jen' in Hebrew means free benevolence. It means that you become pleasant, friendly, attractive for you are the height of the beauty of God, therefore, worthy of attention, of
affection on the part of all. And the one who makes the face of the Lord smile is a beautiful person in the eyes of the people, because he or she is a person who loves.
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” Again, the theme of the smile that is the premise for peace to come. Where there is no smile there is no peace. It is the question that we want to ask from the Lord: 'show us your face'—we want to see it. It is precisely at this time of Christmas when the Lord has shown us his face and we have had occasion to contemplate it.
How have we imagined the face of God? As has been taught in a certain catechesis: a face with a frown, severe, demanding, terrible for whoever transgressed his orders and his commandments? At Christmas, he has lifted his face for us to see: the above is not the face of God. God’s face is a face that is love and tenderness, only love. We have contemplated it and it was different from what we had been told. And he has come to the world to show us his smiling face. The face of a child who speaks to us only of tenderness, of love and also of weakness. A child who cries if he is not caressed. That is our God. That is the face of our God.
Let's cancel all the other faces because they are blasphemous.
The last request: "And grant you peace." This 'shalom' is a word that we all know very well. "May peace be given to you," may peace be upon you. 'Peace' is not just an absence of tension, of war. Shalom is the fullness of all goods. If God does not smile on our life, if our life is not part of God’s love design, then we will be seduced by our passions, by our selfishness, and we will not have the 'shalom'. Only if we make God smile with our life, we will live in a world of peace.
I wish you all a happy new year.
Thank you for a homily that I can read; contemplate throughout not only this new year, but also throughout my years (I am 64. ; ) )The deep and prayerful reflection within it, I will also share as a Catechist of our teenagers at our Church throughout this year. So grateful to have found you! God is very good! Happy new year! Love, Rhonda