The Priestly Blessing in Light of the Murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

When we face the anguish and anger that are prompted by immediate events, it is incredibly challenging to make the words of our tradition feel meaningful. What can we do with Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing? This is taken from a Shabbat service in June 2020 that May Ye led soon after the murder of George Floyd.

Yevarekhekha Adonai veyishmerekha

Ya’er Adonai panav eilekha vikhuneka

Yisa Adonai panav eilekha veyasem lekha shalom

May God bless you and protect you.

May God shine God’s face upon you and show favor to you.

May God turn God’s face to you and grant you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

In our communities, we offer this blessing to each other at b’nei mitzvah, at the High Holidays. Our relationships with the Divine differ. Our beliefs (and non-beliefs) about God vary. I hold as true that each of us holds a spark of divinity within us. We are powerful and holy beings.

In a moment, I will invite us all to take a breath together. We will take a breath because it is something that we all share. We read in our morning liturgy: Elohai neshamah shenatata bi tehorah hi, “My God, the breath you have placed within me is pure.” Dear community of mine, your breath is Divine, your breath is holy, your breath is a right. In recent days, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people have violently had their breath taken from them. The breath of our Black siblings has been taken by police, by Covid-19 and by environmental racism. We join together in a breath now to center us and remind us of what connects all life. We take a breath now to honor the breath that no longer is. May the memories of George and Breonna and all those unnamed be for a blessing.

And now, I will attempt to offer a few words of blessing inspired by the Priestly Blessing. But let me first say how challenging it feels to find words that might possibly be sufficient — how it actually doesn’t feel like there are words. I’m struggling with my tradition, and I’m wrestling with my Torah. Torah doesn’t feel sufficient in this moment. I don’t know that that my Torah can articulate what needs to be said in this moment. Alas, I will quote its holy words and pray that for some, these words are enough.

Yevarekhekha Adonai veyishmerekha

To my Black and brown siblings, may the Divine bless you and protect you. May your anger and your pain be blessed. May your exhaustion and your tiredness be blessed. May your voice be blessed and may your feet be blessed. May your knees on the concrete be blessed and hands in the air be blessed. May your breath be protected, and your life.

Ya’er Adonai panav eilekha vikhuneka

May the Divine turn their face upon you and show favor to you. May your melanated skin know the favor of the Divine. May the Divine show favor to you in every single encounter you have. May the Divine show favor to you because you are an incredibly holy vessel and powerful human being that has abundance to share with this world you inhabit. May the Divine show favor to you, my Black and brown siblings, protecting you from all evil.

Yisa Adonai panav eilekha veyasem lekha shalom

May the Divine turn their face to you and grant you peace. May the Divine turn their face to you and know your name. May the Divine grant you peace. And grant you breath. And grant you reprieve from your grief and from your mourning. And grant you restful nights.

To my white siblings and my fellow light-skinned people of color, I pause to ask you: How will we protect and keep our Black and brown siblings? How will we protect them from police violence? Where will we put our bodies? How will we turn our faces to our Black and brown siblings and turn favor to them? How will we let them know that we are with them? How will we protect their breath?

May the Divine direct us to pay attention and heed the asks and demands of our Black and brown siblings. May we turn our faces to them and show favor and unwavering support to them, for we will not be liberated without their liberation. May we protect the lives of our Black and brown siblings. May we be sure to know their names as we say the names of those taken. May we support the ways in which our Black siblings choose to protest, remembering that property can be replaced but lives cannot. May we actively work to defund the police and influence our family members, neighbors and co-workers to believe in their core that Black lives matter.

May we know each life to be holy. And so, may we do our part in money, in listening, in learning, in praying, in speaking out, to work towards a world of wholeness, of justice, and of liberation for Black and brown people, and for all.

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