William Hamilton

A blessing’s career

In the first week of Israel’s efforts to repel thousands of lethal attacks, falsehoods were everywhere. What rattled our daughter, and so many like her, were the sources of these certainties – her own online network that includes many Jewish peers. “But as soon as things shifted to attacks on Jews” Avital told me last night, “they became supportive again.” So I asked, “Do you think any of them consider a link between their maligning Israel and these brazen attacks on Jews?” She doubted it, but thought maybe they ought to.

Every Israeli criticizes Israel. Rancorous debate is a national pastime from falafel stands to the halls of government. True friends of Israel should do so in kind. Israel has leaders that mislead, and policies that are, at times, faulty. But her army is systemically moral, and trying to keep her civilians out of trauma centers and graveyards should not be controversial. When cause and effect are getting reversed, when wet pavement is said to cause rainfall, then it’s clear that the venom of Hamas and their supporters is in the bloodstream, inciting feverish attacks on our people in restaurants and along sidewalks.

At the heart of this week’s portion of Torah is the Priestly Blessing, entreating divine protection, light, and uplift (Num. 6:24-26). The career of this blessing spans wide and long through history. It’s last world, shalom, get’s the last word in our standing prayer every morning, afternoon, and evening, as well as at the end of the Mourner’s Kaddish. In the ancient world, the blessing served an an amulet, fencing off harmful influences. And the Hebrew wording contains precisely sixty letters, extending its spiritual goods to every second and every minute.

Perhaps an effective response to the infectious hemorrhaging of harm we’ve been enduring is to do our best to become agents from disseminating, in warmly infectious ways, the fruits of this blessing near and far.

Israeli Jurist Elyakim Rubinstein tells a story from years ago of how moved his Muslim colleague became when he learned that Ely was including his sick parent in his personal prayer for divine protection and healing. Holding others in our prayers, and specifically telling them when and how we do so, can be genuinely faith-warming.

Wishing for such blessing-swelling is not naive to our ominous challenges, nor is it tone-deaf to human suffering. It is our way of taking hopes for safety, grace, and the wherewithal to rise above baser cravings for vengeance – prayers that have lasted and proven lasting – and giving them the last word.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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