Rabbi Berkman’s Musical Shabbat Message

Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman

In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we find the most ancient words of blessing known to us. The Priestly Blessing echoes through millenia (from at least the 7th century BCE). It is incredible to imagine that these words have been said, chanted, or sung for so many generations, in so many Jewish (and Christian) contexts. Parents bestow this blessing upon their children at the start of Shabbat and holy days; officiants recite them at weddings, b’nai mitzvah, brises and baby namings; and in traditional synagogues, those descended from the ancient priests (the Kohanim) give the blessing to the congregation gathered for holy days (and in Jerusalem, this ritual is enacted each morning in synagogue). Below is the Hebrew and the translation of Numbers 6:22-27, followed by my own poetic translation:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

:יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם

May God bless and protect you
May God deal kindly and graciously with you
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace

My poetic translation:
May you feel held by and connected to the Source of Life
May you experience awe, wonder, and grace
May you notice the miraculous in the mundane, and discern the divine within you, connecting you to the fullness of this world teeming with life and holiness.

Sending blessings to you on this Shavuot and Shabbat,

Rabbi Berkman

From the arranger, David Sparr: I’ve always thought Rabbi Berkman’s voice would pair wonderfully with a string quartet. Recently, while remembering her singing the Priestly Blessing on the 2nd Day of Rosh Hashanah (to the Yiddish melody of Oifn Pripichik), I was inspired to write this string quartet arrangement to accompany her. In this recording, since I don’t have access to a real string quartet, I am playing all the parts from a keyboard. But hopefully in the future we can revisit this arrangement using real string players!