I will forever remember the moment when forgiveness flowed, compassion triumphed, and holiness showered me like an unexpected rainstorm. I was transformed the instant that the Holy One laid my guilt to rest and raised me up with the promise of blessing.
My sons and I had been doing the most mundane of our holy work: assigning roles to the various clans and determining responsibilities as we prepared to build and move the Mishkan, our traveling sanctuary. Everyone in our tribe was busy, even my son Ithamar had been given a task, and I chuckled as I watched him try to look unafraid as he went about supervising families.
In the midst of all the business, even though I was the Kohen Gadol, our God’s High Priest, I was feeling insignificant. It had been so long since I had felt the mystery and power that had always undergirded my work. I had become merely a supervisor of the sacred. It seemed God had judged me as less than capable and had walled Godself away from me, reducing my role from the transcendent to the practical.
I was brokenhearted by God’s absence, and I was ashamed because I feared that I was the cause of our separation.
I wondered if God was punishing me still for my weakness at Mount Sinai, for the golden calf I had created. I worried that God was angry with me because my sons, Nadab and Abihu, had transgressed by offering fire that was alien to the Eternal. I had failed. My sons had failed.
Now I longed only for the opportunity to serve the Most High in a most meaningful way. I had suffered in silence for so long.
But then the Holy One revealed the words to bless our people, and in that moment, the distance I had felt seemed to disappear.
The Eternal One spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
May the Eternal bless you and protect you.
May the Eternal’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
May the Eternal bestow [divine] favor upon you and grant you peace. (Numbers 6:22-27)
Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishm’recha.
Yair Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem l’cha Shalom.
God specifically mentioned me, Aaron, in the instructions, as one who would intone the Beneficent One’s blessing. God wanted me ... me! ... to be a vessel of God’s holiness. My heart overflowed with joy. Could it mean that I had been forgiven?
I sat with the words that I hoped signaled a reconciliation. I turned them over and over again in my mind. It was so brief a blessing and yet so richly nuanced and elegant. I was grateful for all the time I had spent with Oholiab, our master craftsman and mishkan builder, because he had taught me the importance of figuring lengths, angles and numbers.
When I considered God’s blessing as if it were a work of art, I discerned patterns in the blessing. The first line contained only three words, but there were five in the second and seven in the third. 3, 5, 7. In fact each line contained an increasing number of letters. 15, 20. 25. Were these trends meant to teach us that our blessings would increase?
That promise delighted me, and I continued searching the prayer for meaning. I realized that 3, 5, and 7 were also numbers divisible only by one and themselves. Nothing else could divide those numbers except themselves.
My breath caught in my throat. Might this be a message from the Author of Forgiveness? The One God wanted to show us that the only thing standing in the way of wholeness was our own impulses to separate ourselves from the community. My heart was pounding in my chest as my thoughts tumbled forward. That meant that I had been the one to separate from God… rather than being the one God left behind. I was the only thing keeping myself from the transcendence I craved!
When I told my sons how God had commanded us to bless our people, Ithamar pointed out that the blessing had been handed down in the singular form. I smiled at my son’s determination to do everything “correctly” and assured him that while we offered the blessing to multitudes, we were actually blessing one person at a time because each person received the blessing individually.
The first time I stood with my sons and offered God’s words to the tribes of Israel, I felt as if I was being cleansed, as if the weight of my guilt and perceived failure was being burned away in the light of God’s compassion and forgiveness. I felt my soul begin to return to the heights it had occupied so long ago.
As we recited God’s words, I understood that hidden within the words of blessing, wrapped up in mathematical precision, was a message that had been crafted just for me:
Previous weaknesses and missteps had been forgiven. The Holy One now called me to focus on the Ever-Present and to guide our people toward the soon-to-be future. I, like all the Israelites, was blessed with protection, compassion, and peace. I was assured that I walked with a true and faithful Companion.