Weekly Message on Parshat Naso by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg May 21, 2010, 8 Sivan, 5770

Weekly Message on Parshat Naso by Rabbi Dov Gartenberg May 21, 2010 Sivan 8, 5770

 In this week’s Haftarah for parshat Naso, a couple have been promised by an angel that they will have a son. Manoah, who will be the father of Samson, asks the angel, “What is your name? We should like to honor you when your words come true. The angel said to him, “You must not ask for my name; it is unknowable.-in Hebrew ‘vhu feli” (Judges 13:17-18 ) The root peh, lamed, alef can mean wondrous, inscrutable, baffling and is translated by Michael Fishbane as ‘unknowable’. This passage recalls a more famous encounter in the Torah between Jacon and an angel at the Jabbok ford. After wrestling the angel all night, Jacob, victorious, asks his name. He is told “you must not ask for my name.” (Gen. 32:30)

 The story of Samson’s birth and the annunciation by the angel is a mystery. The sense of mystery in this biblical story is deepened by the next verse: “Manoah took the kid and the meal offering and offered them up on the rock to the Lord; and a marvelous thing happened-u’mafli la’asot (the same root, peh, lamed, alef)-while Manoah and his wife looked on. As the flames leaped up from the altar toward the sky, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flames of the altar…..” Judges 13:19-20) The word unknowable and marvelous are of the same root in Hebrew and convey a strong sense of utter mystery and an intense bafflement.

 The use of the Hebrew phrase, “mafli la’asot” migrates into our prayer book. It is found in the “Blessings of the Dawn-Birchot Hashahar” section of the weekday and Shabbat morning service. The entire text of this beautiful blessing is: “Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who with wisdom fashioned the human body, creating openings, arteries, glands, and organs, marvelous in structure, intricate in design. Should but one of them, by being blocked or opened, fail to function, it would be impossible to exist. Praised are You, Lord, healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways-u’mafli la’asot.” (Siddur Hadash Prayer Book, p. 144)

 The exact expression found in our Haftorah comes to our lips via the traditional text of the Siddur. The blessing than helps us to marvel at the miracle and mystery of our bodies, which Judaism affirms as positive and worthy of our mindful care and attention. It is so fascinating to me to track a phrase that originally is used to describe a scene of an angel’s fiery ascent to heaven to a marveling words about the functioning of our living bodies. It is also noteworthy that this blessing is said according to our tradition after we go to the bathroom. This is a lovely illustration of how Judaism brings mindfulness to aspects of life that otherwise might be kept at the margins of consciousness. The Torah teaches us to be mindful of everyday miracles, not just the one’s described in our Haftarah.

Please join us this Shabbat morning as I give a running commentary on the Haftarah. I know you will find it stimulating and inspiring. Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

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