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Praying for Peace, Hoping for Unity

The familiar priestly blessing, contained in this week’s portion, states: “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the light of the Lord’s face shine upon and be gracious to you! May Lord always be present in your life and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6)

In its original formulation it was a blessing offered by the ancient priests for the Jewish people. The Torah continues “Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you…’” The grammar appears incorrect. The “you” of the blessing is in the singular not the plural. Why would a blessing directed to “them” be formulated in the singular?

Rabbi Simhah Leib, a Hasidic rebbe, comments: “The priestly blessing is recited in the singular, because the most important blessing that the Jewish people can have is unity.”

I am leaning on his wisdom during these trying and difficult days when Jews shout and scream at one another. We hear, “You’re too critical of the State of Israel in its hour of need and urgency!” Or, “You’re too forgiving of Israel’s wrongs and missteps!”

People often mistake unity for agreement. A group can be unified but not always agree. Disagreements, passionate debates, are part of any healthy relationship or community. There must, however, be a unity of purpose and mission.

I wonder if we have lost this unified vision. And I wonder, if this is why we are no longer able to tolerate disagreements or abide criticisms. Losing sight of a shared mission creates disunity. Do we continue to share the belief that the purpose of leading a Jewish life is not only to teach children how to perform Jewish rituals or to make sure that each and every child has a bar or bat mitzvah, but to relieve the suffering we see in our broken world?

The purpose of the Jewish people’s survival is to make the world better. Abraham Joshua Heschel once remarked, “To be a Jew is either superfluous or essential.” He then continues, “We learn the purpose of Jewish existence: we are obligated to live lives that will become Torah, lives that are Torah.”

The study of Torah, the path of Torah, is a means not an end.

That remains the vision I hold before my eyes. Elie Wiesel affirms, “The mission of the Jewish people has never been to make the world more Jewish, but to make it more human.” It is not just about us.

Can we ever fulfill such a grand vision if we remain divided about the nature and purpose of our existence?

Unity remains our most fervent prayer.

“May the Lord grant you peace.”