Following God’s Lure Through the Priestly Blessing
Most Jews have likely heard or recited the so-called “Priestly Blessing” at some point in their lives. The prayer leader chants it at the close of his or her repetition of the Amidah, the collection of blessings forming the core of traditional Jewish worship services. Clergy commonly recite it at life-cycle celebrations: circumcisions, baby namings, b’nei mitzvah, and weddings. Many parents intone this blessing to their children each Friday evening (humbly, a practice worthy of all parents’ consideration). Few blessings or prayers in the Jewish tradition share this status and role.
The ubiquity of this blessing is doubly amazing considering its ancient pedigree. Extra-biblical sources confirm that the Priestly Blessing is one of the Jewish tradition’s oldest texts. Archaeologists digging near Jerusalem at Ketef Hinnom discovered pieces of silver foil, likely made in the late seventh century B.C.E., inscribed with the blessing’s words—making them the oldest piece of biblical text uncovered to date.1
At the same time, the meaning of the Blessing’s particulars is enigmatic,2 and its apparent underlying theological premise—that the right cluster of words and phrases, uttered by the right people at the right time, will persuade a(n impassible, omniscient, and omnipotent) deity to change the trajectory of a person or a nation’s life—is suspect in our time.3 Fortunately, there is another, more satisfying, way of understanding this ancient prayer.
Currently, I am influenced by an approach to comprehending our reality known as Process Thought. Originally developed in the early twentieth century by the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, Process Thought argues that God is neither supernatural nor coercive. God cannot violate the laws of nature or force a desired outcome. God only has persuasive power. In each moment, we are met with any number of choices. Only some options will lead toward greater “love, justice, experience, and compassion.”4 According to Process thinkers, those options are God’s “lure.” They represent God’s attempt to invite or persuade us to choose the best possible option held out before us in each moment. Seen through this lens, one of the most important roles religion plays is teaching us to recognize and follow the divine lure when we encounter it.
Prayer, then, becomes about centering “ourselves with God at the core,”5 rather than attempting to convince a supernatural power to break the rules of cosmos. Praying opens our eyes to God’s lure and inspires us to follow it. Praying on behalf of others in their presence invites those others to engage in that same process of centering, vision, and inspiration.
Seen through this lens, the Priestly Blessing is fundamentally about aligning with God’s will and enhancing the power of God’s lure in our lives. To achieve this end, the Priestly Blessing asserts that, while its words are to be uttered by the priests, God is its author.6 Thus the Blessing is, in effect, a concrete expression of the divine lure. Its words embody what God wants for us; they reflect a set of choices God hopes we will make. True, the choices are phrased as though they are gifts God might bestow as an act of supernatural power and grace. Upon deeper examination, however, we will discover that they are actually gifts we can (only) attain through our own deeds.
Moreover, the Priestly Blessing outlines these choices in a successive, interlocking series, indicating that these choices, and the actions they lead to, build upon and reinforce each other. One cannot reach the next step in the blessing without having accomplished the preceding step, and later progress can be undermined if the recipient shirks a prerequisite. This structure evokes the Process insight that with each successive act of following God’s lure, we increase our ability to discern it in the future and enhance its persuasive power over our actions. It also echoes the rabbinic teaching that “performance of a commandment leads to another commandment, and a sin leads to another sin, since the reward for performing a commandment is another commandment, and the reward for a sin is another sin” (Pirkei Avot 4:2).
The Priestly Blessing offers a challenge to follow God’s lure. It outlines how following that lure enables a perpetually increasing ability to discern and make godly choices. And it shows how this process offers a path to better lives and a better world.
“May the Eternal Bless You”: Prosperity
The first step in the process is blessing, meaning material prosperity and physical health. That is the view of Rashi, who teaches that “blessing” in this context refers to one’s property becoming bountiful. He bases his interpretation on the Bible’s use of the verb bet-resh-kaf, where it almost always refers to bounty, health, and material prosperity. Thus, when God tells Abraham, “I will bless you,” the narrative goes on to specify that the meaning of the blessing is twofold: “I will make of you a great nation” and “I will make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). In Deuteronomy, to “be blessed” (7:14) means to be given “abounding prosperity in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil” (28:11). It further means to be free from all sickness, to be victorious over enemies (7:13–16), and to have plentiful food, nice houses, and riches (8:12).
It makes perfect sense for the Priestly Blessing to begin here. First, it is hard for a person to care about any other value if he or she is struggling to survive. This view is reminiscent of the ancient lesson of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah as cited in Pirkei Avot: “If there is no flour, there is no Torah” (3:17). But more pointedly, if the goal of the Priestly Blessing is to place a person on the path to discerning and following God’s lure, prosperity is the easiest and best place to start. It is a godly choice in the sense that, if we understand God as the source of all life, then the most basic urging of the divine lure must be to live, and to live as well as one possibly can. This truth is evidenced by the fact that the command to live—to make those choices that facilitate our own physical and material well-being—is central to and prevalent in the Torah and the later Jewish tradition. Deuteronomy 30:19, for example, instructs us to “choose life.” Later sages, such as Maimonides, argue that Judaism’s primary objective is human flourishing, that all the Torah aims at is our working toward “the welfare of the soul and the welfare of the body.” Far from other religious systems that celebrate a life of austerity, self-denial, and the renouncement of worldly pleasures, the Jewish tradition affirms that God invites us to live the best, healthiest, most successful, wealthiest lives possible. Moreover, the Priestly Blessing begins with health and prosperity because the pursuit of our own well-being is more or less instinctive to most of us.8 It is an aspect of God’s lure that most have little trouble following.
Because God does not have coercive power or control over outcomes, God cannot ensure that wealth goes to the righteous and poverty to the sinful. However, the Priestly Blessing holds out the assertion that God invites us to strive for success and greatness. We are urged to courageously reach for the highest possible heights, with God rooting for our success and doing everything possible to help us attain it.
“And Protect You”: Protection of and from Prosperity
Protection naturally follows blessing. We cannot truly flourish without insulation from that which threatens us. Thus, God invites us to protect ourselves from that which would rob us of our blessings. Reflecting this value, the Jewish legal tradition obligates and empowers us to take care of ourselves, to take the necessary steps to stay healthy and avoid that which harms the body.9 Thus, the Priestly Blessing asserts that the next step in discerning and following the divine lure is to make those choices that enable us to protect our lives and defend our assets. As Rashi teaches, “What good is a great gift”—namely, the wealth that God invites us to secure for ourselves—“if bandits come and take it from you?”
But a lure that leads to greater love, justice, and compassion will not only invite us to protect ourselves; it also leads us to recognize the crucial limits to defending our own wealth. As much as “protection” in the Priestly Blessing refers to the protection of our own well-being, then, it also must mean protection from our wealth, at least in a spiritual and moral sense. Wealth, though not inherently bad, can be morally toxic.
Wealthy people, for example, tend to give proportionally less to charity than poor people.10 Moreover, when wealthy people do give to charity, they tend to disproportionately give to institutions that serve their interests and needs—like universities, private schools, symphonies, and museums—rather than to those that serve the less fortunate.11 Underscoring these facts is the recent finding that the wealthy are slower to embrace compassion.12
One reason for this phenomenon is that, in the process of trying to protect their wealth, many cordon themselves off from disadvantaged people and places. When separated from need, we can become ignorant of and indifferent to the desperation of others.13 Conversely, the more we see suffering, the more likely we are to try to alleviate it. This is evidenced by the fact that wealthy people who live primarily among other wealthy people are less generous than wealthy people who live in more heterogeneous communities.14
A powerful talmudic passage illustrates this insight, telling of Elijah regularly going to see a pious man, but refusing to visit when the pious man built a fortified wall around his home.15 Why did Elijah object to the fortified wall? According to Rashi, the wall prevented those inside the enclosure from hearing the voices of poor people who might be crying out for help outside the enclosure. By taking steps to protect his wealth, the pious man had closed himself off from the ability to hear those in need.
The Torah emphatically warns of the spiritual dangers of prosperity, because of wealth’s propensity to close us off from need: “When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered—beware, lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Eternal your God who freed you from the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 8:12–14). Wealth makes us apt to forget God. God’s defining characteristic, we are reminded here, is liberating the enslaved. A few verses later, the Deuteronomist adds to that definition, noting that God, above all else, fights for “the orphan and the widow; befriending and providing the stranger with food and clothing” (10:18). Forgetting God, then, is biblical shorthand for forgetting our obligations to champion the disadvantaged. Contemporary talmudist Aryeh Cohen puts this imperative in stark terms:
The experience of the Israelites in Egypt is consecrated in law as the experience of God hearing the cries of oppression. The law obligates us to choose to be like God—hearing the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the marginal and unprotected members of society—and at the same time to choose not to be like Pharaoh by ignoring the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the marginal and unprotected members of society.16
Serving the God of the Exodus is ultimately the responsibility to “befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). The Priestly Blessing thus challenges us to see God luring us not only to protect our prosperity but also to protect ourselves from it.
“May the Eternal Shine God’s Face Upon You”: Pleasing God
The centrality of protecting ourselves from the nefarious aspects of wealth builds to the next piece of the Priestly Blessing, the next crucial stage in the process of recognizing and enhancing the power of God’s lure in our lives. “May the Eternal shine God’s face upon you” is an idiom and should not be understood literally. According to Jacob Milgrom, the expression is best understood in light of its “semantic opposite, the hiding of God’s face,” indicating God’s anger.17 It is thus best understood to mean, “May God be pleased with you.” This is likely what Rashi meant when he interpreted the phrase as “God will show you a smiling face, a glowing [or: happy] face.” Biblically speaking, God hides God’s face—that is to say, God is angry or displeased—most commonly when people violate the covenant. For example, in Deuteronomy 31:16–21 we find:
The Eternal said to Moses: You are soon to lie with your ancestors. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them. Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, “Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.” Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods.
Recall that, according to Deuteronomy 8, we are most likely to turn from God as a consequence of our prospering in the Land of Israel. Furthermore, recall that we defined turning from God as shirking our obligations to tend to the needs of the poor. The equation implied by the Priestly Blessing thus comes into focus: God’s being pleased with us depends on our loyally heeding God’s call in our lives, and we heed God’s call—at least in large part—by helping the most disadvantaged in our society. In other words, striving for social justice secures the blessing of God being pleased with us. This imperative evokes Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa’s teaching that “all who please people, God is pleased with them; and all who do not please people, God is not pleased with them” (Pirkei Avot 3:10).
Pleasing God is about more than our psychological drive to gratify an authority figure. Similarly, it is about more than our obligation to “love the Eternal your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which would seem to include being altruistically devoted to God’s happiness, expecting nothing in return. There is in fact a quid pro quo implied here. Note that, according to the Deuteronomy text above, God’s being pleased with us is directly connected to God’s presence in our world and God’s physical protection of us. The hiding of God’s face due to God’s anger will make us “ready prey” for “many evils and troubles.” This passage has frequently been interpreted to mean that suffering is divine punishment for the sin of betrayal, that God withholds God’s protection when God feels we are not deserving of it. The theological problems with that interpretation, especially after the horrors of Auschwitz, are too many to enumerate here.
But there is at least one other way to understand what Deuteronomy is describing: if we, as individuals and as a collective, fulfill our covenantal responsibilities; if we care wholeheartedly for the least advantaged, elevate the dignity of all human beings, fashion communities of justice and righteousness, and strive toward peace; if, ultimately, we advance an agenda of oneness, of the fundamental unity of all that is—then God, the personification, source, and ultimate expression of that oneness, will be present in our world. And, in such a world, we will have no need for supernatural protection from an external power, for we will have already built a world in which there is only godliness and only goodness, a world in which there is no evil or trouble.
The call for God’s face to shine on us is, in this sense, a challenge to make God more present in our lives and world. It is about discerning God’s lure, making those choices that will enable us to thrive, but also those that prevent us from becoming hard-hearted and that enable us to support the thriving of others. It is about habituating ourselves to make the choices to follow the lure and thereby making godly action instinctive and reflexive in our lives.
“And Be Gracious to You”: Keeping God Close
Since the successive components of the Priestly Blessing intertwine and build upon each other, the presence of God alluded to with “May the Eternal shine God’s face upon you” leads inexorably to the next part of the blessing, where a better translation might be, “May the Eternal be close by you.” This interpretation follows Rabbi Ḥiyya the Great, who uses a bit of creative philology to connect the word vi-ḥunneka, from the root ḥet-nun-nun, to the related but distinct root ḥet-nun-hei, meaning to camp or to dwell—thus understanding the verse to be saying, “May Eternal dwell close to you.”18
Remember that, according to Deuteronomy 31, God’s pleasure in us leads to God’s palpable presence in the world. We interpreted that concept to mean that fulfilling our covenantal responsibilities, advancing goodness, justice, and peace, enhances the godliness manifest in our world. God—the ultimate expression of the oneness of all creation—dwells with us, to borrow a phrase from Rabbi Menaḥem Mendel of Kotzk, only if “we let God in”19—a notion that itself evokes God’s words in Exodus, “I will dwell among you when you make a holy space for Me” (25:8). In other words, the Priestly Blessing assures the recipient that, if one pursues the program outlined in the first three stages of the blessing, one will have created not only a more just and peaceful world, but also a world in which godliness is more present.
However, living in such a world is of little value if it is unsustainable. After all, what good is having a more godly world if it only stays that way for a brief moment before devolving back into lawlessness, injustice, and suffering? Fortunately, we human beings are creatures of conditioning and habit. Over time, our actions crystallize into habits, which become instincts, which become almost like innate parts of who we are. How we accustom ourselves to act is how we will be likely to act in the future, and every action one takes defines the options one will have to act in every consequent situation.
Moreover, we are heavily influenced by our culture and environment. Living in an environment where dignity, compassion, justice, and peace are the norm increase the likelihood that we will live our lives in consonance with those values, that those values will be native to our personalities. Thus, the blessing of God’s closeness, understood in the way we have outlined, is also the blessing of godliness becoming a natural part of us through our regularly performing acts of godliness.
At first blush, this may appear to be a radical departure from the plain meaning of the Priestly Blessing; but from a certain point of view, closeness is very much in line with the concept of graciousness. According to Milgrom, graciousness means mercy: “God will not judge Israel according to its sins but will deal kindly with it as [God’s] free gift.”20 Many biblical passages support this interpretation, the most notable of which is Exodus 34:6, where gracious is used as a synonym for compassion: “The Eternal! The Eternal! A compassionate and gracious God…”
Compassion, it must be pointed out, is directly related to proximity. Evolutionary psychology insightfully points out that the best predictor of a compassionate response is propinquity, especially in the filial relationship:
[It’s] relatively rare for human beings to use blood revenge against their own kin.…[Harsh] revenge against a blood relative, insofar as it actually reduces the relative’s fitness, reduces the avenger’s fitness as well. Like it or not, your sister Tracy and your cousin Tommy are carrying around some of your genes…so if you remove your genes from the gene pool, you’re removing some of their’s as well….Therefore, a proneness to forgive our blood relatives probably evolved because people who had such a trait were able to avoid shooting themselves in the foot (or the genes?) by reducing the fitness of their blood relatives.…[A] big part of why we’re inclined to forgive our friends, neighbors, and associates today is probably because forgiveness enabled our ancestors to develop and maintain the cooperative alliances that they needed to thrive in large groups.21
Praying for God’s graciousness, then, is at its core an expression of hope that God will be close to us; that, like a relative, God will see us as part of God, and that we will see God as part of us. Again, we are drawn back to understanding this piece of the Priestly Blessing as the challenge to make godliness a natural part of us—which we do, in large part, by regularly acting in godly ways.
“May the Eternal Lift God’s Face Up To You”: God’s Favor
The Priestly Blessing nurtures a self-reinforcing cycle, fitting for a passage whose structure of three, then five, then seven words, featuring interlocking language, resembles, in a way, a spiral or loop.22 If the Blessing’s recipient upholds his or her covenantal responsibilities, the world will be infused with more godliness. A more godly world will invite more godly action, which will lead to God having a more secure presence, and so on. It is therefore not surprising that the next piece of the Blessing would continue this cycle.
As was the case with the shining of God’s face, lifting up God’s face is idiomatic. Elsewhere in the Bible, “lifting the face” means to see someone favorably and give that person preferential treatment. Especially common is one lifting up one’s face in response to someone who does something good for you—that is, bribery. Hence, when Lot asks to flee to a nearby town during the destruction of Sodom, God’s angel replies, “Very well, I will also lift up my face to you [i.e., grant you this favor] and I will not annihilate the town of which you have spoken” (Genesis 19:21). The angel presumably grants the request because of Lot’s hospitality during the latter’s sojourn in Sodom. Similarly, Jacob reasons that, if he showers his vengeful brother with gifts, “he will lift up my face” (Genesis 32:21)—that is, perhaps Esau will show Jacob favor in return.
Notably, one character in the Bible does not lift up the face in this way: God. According to Deuteronomy 10:17–19, “[God] does not lift up God’s face [i.e., God shows no favor] and takes no bribe, but does justice for the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing them with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This notion of God seems to contradict the Priestly Blessing, if it is understood through the lens of the dominant theology. If God does not show favor, if God’s blessings cannot be bought, then what good would it do to pray for God to show us favor? Also, even if one were to argue that the favor for which the Priestly Blessing asks is simply for God to be swayed by and to reward our good behavior, we would still face the theological problem that God frequently seems not to reward good behavior or punish bad behavior, that righteous people suffer and wicked people flourish. Moreover, there seems to be a contradiction embedded within this very passage. How can God show no favor and simultaneously do justice for and befriend the disadvantaged?
But remember: when we ask in this prayer for God’s blessings to come to us, we are not asking for gold stars or cash rewards. We are not asking for health, long life, and prosperity to be gifted to us from heaven, though the Priestly Blessing encourages us to seek those gifts for ourselves. Rather, we are praying that our godly work yields godly results, that we succeed in fashioning lives and building a world in which godliness is manifest. Thus, what we mean by asking that God show us favor is that our work on God’s behalf be effective in bringing God closer to our world. And let one’s heart not grow faint in the belief that God categorically rejects that kind of favoritism, for we know that God does indeed favor the weak and marginalized; and if we, like God, fight for justice and human dignity, we will, as a result, receive God’s favor by virtue of there being more godliness present in our world. When we defend the cause of the downtrodden, God’s presence is made more manifest in our world. When we do not, God’s presence flees the world. There is no middle ground. The cycle thus continues: we pray that we engage in more godly behavior, which will lead to God being more present in the world, which will, in turn, urge more godly behavior.
“And Grant You Peace”: It Ends, and Begins, with Peace
It is fitting, then, that the Priestly Blessing should conclude with shalom. Shalom, usually translated as “peace,” means two things, which are in some ways connected and in some ways distinct: it means an absence of violence, and it also refers to wholeness, completion, or fulfillment. The goal of our following God’s lure, of striving to live lives of justice and righteousness, of mending fractured lives and a fractured world, and of making the world a more suitable dwelling for the Divine is shalom—completed, harmonized, and perfected lives, and a completed, harmonized, and perfected world. Ultimately, the Priestly Blessing challenges us to fashion lives, communities, and a world of shalom.
This ending, in a sense, turns the Blessing’s incremental structure into something more cyclical. In a sense, the ending is also the beginning. Peace is the goal, but it is also, in many important ways, the prerequisite. It is hard to flourish without first enjoying peace. Insofar as peace means a cessation of hostilities and an expansion of justice, those who live in areas of the world brutalized by war, injustice, and corruption know that the promise of prosperity is impossible for most outside a context of social justice and peace. Conversely, those fortunate enough to live in peaceful, prosperous countries governed by the rule of law owe their blessings, in large part, to the tranquility of their societies.
Moreover, shalom is also an internal quality, a sense of harmony and contentment in one’s life. A person who has true inner shalom will need fewer material blessings than someone who has no internal sense of satisfaction, and so constantly has to seek external trappings of prosperity. As Ben Zoma teaches in the Mishnah, “Who is wealthy? The one who is happy with one’s portion” (Pirkei Avot 4:1). Thus, the Priestly Blessing teaches us that the only way to truly fulfill its godly challenges is first to cultivate peace in our lives and in our world. This means that we must work to make our societies more just and to bring an end to the violence that plagues our communities and planet. And it means also that we are invited to be personally balanced, contented, and grateful; to make ourselves spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally whole. Hence Rabbi Shimon ben Ḥalafta’s teaching in the Mishnah (perhaps not coincidentally, the very last teaching in the whole of the Mishnah, as if to underscore its importance), “The blessed Holy One found no vessel that could hold blessing for Israel except for peace” (Uktzin 3:12).
Ironically, the result of this inner and outer work will be a peace that would negate our need for doing all the other work the Priestly Blessing invites us to do! Indeed, the power of the Blessing is that it has built-in obsolescence. Blessed lives and a blessed world are not a result of divine grace, but rather the product of human action, of the extent to which we acknowledge and follow God’s lure. Only we, following God’s invitation, can make peace in our lives and peace in our world. God cannot do it for us. God needs our partnership.
Ultimately, this understanding of the Priestly Blessing makes sense of the context in which the Torah places it. It is a blessing the priests give because, according to tradition, the priests embody shalom. The sage Hillel famously taught that the defining trait of Aaron, the High Priest to whom the command in Numbers to recite the Priestly Blessing is addressed, is that he was a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace (Pirkei Avot 1:12). The Blessing, then, is an imperative for its recipients to themselves become lovers of peace and pursuers of peace.
The way to do that, according to the Jewish tradition, is to study, practice, and live a life of Torah: “Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Rabbi Ḥanina, ‘Students of the sages increase peace in the world.’”23 The Priestly Blessing, then, is not a wish-list of the things we hope for God to give, but is rather an invitation to engage in a program of following God’s lure, of working toward a better, more just, more peaceful world through Torah.
The Priestly Blessing embodies a challenge to discern God’s call and make godly choices, offering a process for building to better lives and a better world. When we hear this blessing recited over us, let it move us to live lives of Torah, lives of peace and peacemaking, and lives dedicated to bringing God to the world. And when we recite it over our children, let it move them to become the “builders” of a repaired world.24
1 Stephen Caesar, “The Blessing of the Silver Scrolls,” in Associates for Biblical Research (January 6, 2010), available online at www.biblearchaeology.org. And see also the essays elsewhere in this volume by Jonathan Sacks, Avram I. Reisner, Aubrey Glazer, Yeshaya Dalsace, and Michael Graetz, who also discuss the Ketef Hinnom find.
2 As Jacob Milgrom writes, “a satisfactory explanation of the occurrence of the Priestly Benediction in its present setting has yet to be found” (The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989], p. 51).
3 See Bradley Shavit Artson, God of Becoming and Relationship: The Dynamic Nature of Process Theology (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing and The Rabbinical Assembly, 2013), p. 123.
4 Ibid., p. 125.
6 Numbers 6:22–23.
7 Guide for the Perplexed III 28, where Maimonides further explains “body” to mean “the betterment of society achieved by establishing rules of justice, warding off injustice, inculcating good moral qualities and eradicating bad ones, and abolishing reciprocal wrongdoing, in addition to maintaining the health of one’s personal physical body,” and soul to mean “beliefs, opinions, and mind.”
8 Hans Jonas, “The Burden and Blessing of Mortality,” in Mortality and Morality: The Search for the Good After Auschwitz, ed. Lawrence Vogel (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996), p. 91.
9 M.T. Hilkhot Dei·ot 4:1.
10 Judith Warner, “The Charitable Giving Divide,” in The New York Times (August 22, 2010), available online at www.nytimes.com.
11 Yasmin Anwar, “Lower Classes Quicker to Show Compassion in the Face of Suffering,” in UC Berkley News Center (December 19, 2011), available online at newscenter.berkeley.edu.
14 Ken Stern, “Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity,” in The Atlantic (March 20, 2013), available online at www.theatlantic.com.
15 B. Bava Batra 7b.
16 Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, “Shabbat Parashat Ekev: The Spiritual Challenge of Wealth” (July 31, 2010), available online at ziegler.aju.edu.
17 Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, pp. 51–52.
18 Bemidbar Rabbah 11:6. Cf. the reference to this text by Baḥya ben Asher ibn Halawa (called Rabbeinu Baḥya), in his commentary to Numbers 6:25.
19 Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: Later Masters, trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1947), p. 277.
20 Milgrom, p. 52.
21 Michael E. McCullough, Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), pp. 89–90.
22 Milgrom puts it thus: “The structure of the formula is simple, and in its simplicity lies its strength. The threefold blessing is a rising crescendo of 3, 5, and 7 words, respectively. The number of consonants are respectively 15, 20, and 25. The increased progression is also evidenced in the number of words (15, 20, 25), of stressed syllables or meter (3, 5, 7) and of total syllables (12, 14, 16). The first and last cola of the poem are exactly the same length (7 syllables), and they form an envelope about the poem that summarizes its essence: “The Lord bless you / and grant you peace…” (p. 51).
23 B. Berakhot 64a.