As I watched Lin-Manuel Miranda accept the Tony Award for best musical “Hamilton” in New York on Sunday, I was struck not only by the beauty of his sonnet but by the passionate effect of his eight-time repetition of that simple four-letter word – “LOVE”:
“…When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside…
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”
Love knocked this week upon a calcified door and walked through reminding us who we are and ought to be.
Thousands lined up to give blood. Restaurants brought food. Hands touched hands and eyes beheld eyes. Hearts melded into one in Orlando and throughout the land.
The destruction of life by the hateful assassin begets profound mourning among us all, and it stimulates the resolve of all decent people to resist the hate and fear spewed forth by the politician’s crass and heartless rhetoric.
The truth is that love eclipses hate every time.
It happens that in this week’s Torah portion Naso, there appears the oldest blessing in Jewish recorded history:
“May God bless you and keep you;
May God’s light shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May God lift up the Divine countenance upon you and grant you shalom – wholeness and peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
Known as the Birkat Kohanim, the blessing of the priests, it is at least 3000 years old. The oldest copy of this ancient text was unearthed in the City of David in Jerusalem and is estimated have been written down around 900 BCE.
Rabbinic tradition of later centuries developed a rich mythology about the use of this blessing. The midrashim say that these words were invoked by God when contemplating the writing of the Torah and the creation of the universe, when the first humans emerged from the dust and were infused with Divine breath, and when Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai.
The Kohanim (priests) and many rabbis today raise their hands in the form of the Hebrew letter shin (the first letter of one of God’s names – Shaddai) and bless the congregation on Shabbat and holidays, at a brit milah and the naming of a baby girl, upon b’nai mitzvah, Jews by-choice, and marriage couples under the chuppah at their weddings.
This blessing acknowledges the creation of something absolutely new, that never existed before, a blessing of hope and faith, a hedge against cynicism and despair.
Rabbinic tradition requires that the priest (and rabbis today) say these words ONLY when they love the people and the community upon whom they invoke this blessing. If there is even one person present about whom the priest feels no love and/or bears animus, that priest must defer to another priest to say the blessing.
Lin Manuel-Miranda had it exactly right – “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”
Leonard Nimoy internationalized the hands of the priests in an iconic gesture of shalom in his greeting as Mr. Spock in Star Trek with the accompanying phrase “Live long and prosper.”
Leonard fondly remembered going to shul on Shabbos in South Boston as a child with his grandfather who told him to cover his eyes when the Kohanim ascended the bimah and invoked God’s blessing upon the congregation.
Leonard asked me years ago why his grandfather told him to cover his eyes, and I explained that at that moment of blessing tradition says that the “Shekhina” (the feminine Divine presence) enters the congregation. Torah warns that no human being can glimpse the Divine presence and remain alive, and so we cover our eyes as does the priest under the tallit when saying the blessing, much as Indiana Jones did when the Ark of the Covenant was opened in Steven Spielberg’s film “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Leonard, as a gifted photographer, was inspired to embark on a project that he called “Shekhina” in which he photographed nude women in ethereal poses wearing the tallis and t’fillin. I have one of Leonard’s photos hanging in my synagogue study, and I’m inspired every time I look at it, and my love for this man is rekindled.
“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside,” ever!