Raising up

First of all, I would love to express my gratitude to all of you who supported me this week, sharing beautiful messages on social media and privately on the occasion of my in-person rabbinic ordination, since last year’s ceremony happened exclusively on zoom. Thank you!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of raising up as a Jewish concept.

Last week’s parasha, Naso, contains the famous Priestly Blessing. This short formula is still used to bless our children on Shabbat, a couple under the huppah, and a teen who takes on their Jewish Identity as their responsibility when celebrating a Bat or Bar Mitzvah.  

May God bless you and protect you;

May God’s divine light be directed to you, shining the divine grace upon you;

May God lift up the divine face upon you and grant you peace. (Bamidbar 6:24-26)

The last third of the blessing talks about God raising up Godself in order to meet us. This expression can and have been translated in multiple forms, all of them bringing to light a different aspect of the divine.

My focus now when reading it is the idea that God raises up Godself in the blessing, the priests would raise their hands in order to bless the people, and nowadays many parents put their hands on their children’s head when offering this blessing. The outcome of the blessing is our hope that this person will be spiritually elevated, raising up to upcoming challenges and opportunities.

A similar concept appears in this week’s reading, Beha’alotecha. The name of our parasha contains a similar idea of raising up. While probably used to express some kind of physical set up “When you mount the lamps of the Menorah”, the word Beha’alotecha can be translated as “When you go up”.

The same verb can have multiple other meanings, but all related to the same idea:

to go up, ascend;

to meet, visit, follow, depart;

to spring up, grow, shoot forth (of vegetation);

to go up, rise (of natural phenomenon);

to come up (before God);

to go up, go up over, extend (of boundary);

to excel, be superior to.

This is also the same word used when referring to someone who moved to Israel, they made aliyah to Israel. Or when referring to someone receiving the honor to read from the Torah, they receive an aliyah.

The idea that a physical act upwards isn’t a mere gesture but a symbolic ritual aimed to elevate us spiritually is present here and many other areas of our tradition.

As we are all emerging from the spaces we created during the past months to protect ourselves, we are called to raise up. This is not just physical change to go out of the house or even go back to work or study with others around. This is a moment to elevate our spirits and be open to find the divine in each other’s presence.

We all have our individual challenges right now, so our pace and response will for sure be unique to our needs as well. At the same time, I want to invite you to take on the Priestly blessing and the act of raising up to light our communal lamps as a spiritual and shared journey. It has been a blessing to me over this year to meet many of you individually, either on zoom or in person (if we haven’t met yet, please reach out and I would love to meet you soon!). This community is made by each one of us, raising up, bring up our own lights. We have an amazing opportunity ahead to reshape the future of our community, responding to a new reality and equipped with new skills, new voices, and new energy.

As Hizkuni, a 13th century rabbi living in France said about the last line of the priestly blessing:

“The priests, in their blessing, ask God to welcome the members of the congregation with a welcoming and joyful heart”.

I want to invite you and bless you to raise up, on your own pace, with a joyful heart. Bring up your light and together we will shine brighter.

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