“May God bless you and protect you!
May God deal kindly and graciously with you!
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace!”
Every Friday night, I place my hand on my children’s heads and bless them with these words, found in this week’s Torah portion. These verses are known as the Priestly Blessing and they hold a deep and powerful meaning for Jews. It is a blessing given from a parent to a child, from clergy to congregant, in times of joy and times of hardship.
Over the last 48 hours, my emails and calls to colleagues and friends in the Black community included some variation of the words above. I prayed with them for peace and safety, and for God’s blessings to be with them and their families. I thought about the meaning of these words in both the Jewish and Christian faiths, the depth of these verses beseeching God for protection, peace, and favor.
Several years ago, I was discussing the concept of God’s granting peace and favor with a Black Christian pastor, a woman of deep faith and a powerful prophetic voice. She explained what “grace” meant for her and her community. We connected meaningfully over our common belief in God’s presence in our lives, holding us through even the most difficult periods.
This is a painful time. The murder of George Floyd, the voices of peaceful protest drowned out by outside agitators fomenting chaos and turmoil, the inappropriate use of symbols of faith to undermine people exercising their right to peaceful assembly, are reflections of a deeper, seemingly unending pain felt by generations of Black Americans. It is time to heal that pain.
It is time to address systemic racism in our communities and our country. American Jews must engage in this process, first by ensuring that Jews of Color are included in the collective voice of our People. Our Jewish communities are diverse and our spaces and organizations must reflect that. We must live the words of the Priestly Blessing, moving through the world dealing kindly and graciously with others, seeing the humanity in all people, especially those who may look different than us. We must be ready to protect those who require it and speak out against those who jeopardize peace.
To my friends and my colleagues, to those who will place a hand on the head of a Black child this Friday night and invoke the words I say to my children, to the clergy who look out at the young Black men and women in their congregations and pray for their safety and protection, I pray that God blesses you and protects you, that God is kind and gracious with you, that God looks upon you with grace, and grants you peace.