Birkat Kohanim: In Search of Light and Peace

31 12 2008

birkatcohanimThese three short verses, taken from the blessings that the kohanim, or priests, are supposed to give to the Israelites (see Numbers 6:24), contain many requests. They ask for blessings, protection, light, kindness, attention, and peace, and I say them every day after the Torah blessings in the morning prayers.

Significantly, I think, these verses of blessing make no mention of happiness. I am opposed to praying for happiness, since I don’t think it’s a realistic request and I don’t believe in praying for the impossible. I believe, of course, in individual moments of happiness, but to ask to be happy overall? Not realistic. Life contains too many tragedies to seek constant happiness. This may go against current trends in positive psychology as exemplified by popular books with titles like Stumbling on Happiness and Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, and maybe this outlook accounts for, or is due to, my sometimes depressed state, but it’s how I feel.

In any case, volumes could be written about each of these, and I yearn with all my being for all of them, but I want to focus on light and peace in this post. When I think of what I pray for the most, it is peace and a sense of fulfillment or purpose in life. Light is a necessary prerequisite for all of those things.

I spend a lot of time in darkness when I am depressed. It can be difficult to explain how pervasive and invasive this darkness seems, and how real it feels on even the sunniest of days. It’s not just that I feel dark and despondent when I am in a depressed period; the entire world around me seems dull, dim, and cloudy. It doesn’t feel like it’s dark here and now, but somewhere else or at some other time, there is light. The darkness that envelopes me with a chilly hug when I am depressed precludes the existence of any light, anywhere.

My all-time favorite verse about light is from Isaiah 58. It refers to light as a kind of justice breaking forth through the injustice and corruption of the world we live in. I can’t equate depression with injustice and corruption by any means, but the kind of light I seek breaks forth as the morning, and includes a strong dose of healing, much like the light of Isaiah 58:8.

ח אָז יִבָּקַע כַּשַּׁחַר אוֹרֶךָ, וַאֲרֻכָתְךָ מְהֵרָה תִצְמָח; וְהָלַךְ לְפָנֶיךָ צִדְקֶךָ, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה יַאַסְפֶךָ. 8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

The first half of the verse that follows, verse 9, is also stunningly beautiful and, in many ways, it sums up my deepest, unexpressed hopes for what prayer can be and do. When will God say, “Here I am”? In some ways, I wonder if my failure to call out in a regular manner, alone, accounts for God’s failure to respond. I have certainly cried enough… In general, I find many of the words of the prophets to either reflect my depressed state or to provide a sense of hope, uplifting, or healing from them.

ט אָז תִּקְרָא וַיהוָה יַעֲנֶה, תְּשַׁוַּע וְיֹאמַר הִנֵּנִי:. 9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD will answer; thou shalt cry, and He will say: ‘Here I am.’

And what of peace?

When I think of seeking and hoping for peace in my life, I think of stability and normality. I think of waking up in the morning, expressing gratitude for my life, getting up, and going about my day. I think of the absence of the too-oft expressed “Please God, just give me one good reason to keep on living!” thoughts. I think of being able to fully take care of myself the way I deserve to taken care of. I think of being an integral part of a warm, loving, and accepting community. I think of being fully at peace with my family and, more than that, with all the many parts of myself–my reality, my limitations, and the many, great, unrealized possibilities of my life.


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