And I decided, today, I still wasn’t done. I was perusing through the Mishkan T’filah for Gatherings prayerbook from the Central Conference of American Rabbis and found an alternative version of the Priestly Blessing. What intrigued me about this text was that it came from the Community Rule of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient documents from a Jewish sect that existed over 2000 years ago include interpretations specific for that community. The familiar three lines that begin with the phrase “May God bless you and keep you” were embellished in this version, translated by scholar Nahum Glatzer:
MAY GOD BLESS YOU with all good
and keep you from all evil.
May God enlighten your heart with immortal wisdom
and grace you with eternal knowledge.
May God lift up merciful countenance upon you for eternal peace.
The text offered a unique opportunity to use basically the same melody for both the Hebrew and English. This one I wanted to be gentle and peaceful, due to the last word of the blessing.
The line that led me to want to create a melody for this blessing was the second statement: “and keep you from all evil.” On February 27, the day before Purim, the specter of evil, in the person of Haman in the book of Esther, loomed large for me. We need protection from those who hate without cause, those who spread untrue accusations, and those who seek to dehumanize others. In the book of Esther, Haman sought the death of the Jews. Declarations of bigotry intended to take away people’s humanity can cause their “social death,” where people oust them from the human community for no reason other than someone telling them that they should take that approach. We have seen this all too often. We need words of blessing to take us in a different direction. Hopefully, this prayer front he Dead Sea Scrolls offers that opportunity.