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Familiar and not.. 
         a glimpse of blessing 
                          through one of the Dead Sea Scrolls


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In studying texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls for a class paper, I came across these few lines from the scroll called The Community Rule (1QS, 4Q255-64, 4Q280, 286-7, 4Q502, 5Q11,13), also known as the Manual of Discipline.  The obvious similarity to the brachas (blessings) we know as the Priestly 
blessings is certainly 
striking.  And yet it is not 
that the members of the 
Qumran Community did 
not have the same 
traditional text we know 
in their own copies of Bemidbar (Numbers). 

This text is part of an initiation ritual described in some detail.  The Priests and Levites bless God and the initiates respond "Amen, Amen".  The Priests then recite a testimony of  "His merciful grace" and the Levites respond with the "iniquities of the Children of Israel".  The initiates then confess "We have strayed!  We" and shift the mood dramatically to a group personal mode.  The Priests respond with this version of the priestly blessing: of Numbers.  In the 1QS formula, the Priests say 

           May the One bless you with all that is good and preserve you from all that is evil!
           May the One enlighten your heart with the wisdom of living and educate/grant you 
                  with knowledge of the worlds!
           May the One raise the face of Khesed toward you for the peace of the worlds!  
                                                                              (1QS II: 2-4 cf. Num. 6:24-26)

Then the Levites curse the "men of the lot of Belial" (cf. Deut 13:14), also using "you" toward them in an almost opposite formula, ending in "May God not heed when you call, nor pardon you by blotting out your sin!  May the One raise the face of anger towards you for vengeance!  May there be no "Peace" for you. . . " (1QS II: 5-9)
And "those entering the Covenant shall say, 'Amen, Amen!'"  The power and drama of this ritual can still be felt through the ages  who would even think of backsliding after this pair of blessings and curses.  The scene is reminiscent of the entry of Yisrael into the Land in D'varim (Deut) 27 and 28.  Like the Torah scene, the order to say "Amen" is associated with the cursing, only, thus underscoring the power and acceptance of the curse, should it become applicable.

Why did the Qumran Community change the text to the formula shown here?  Or are we seeing another tradition, which we may well associate with caves?   

It is the lev, the heart, that is being enlightened with sekhel khayyim, the wisdom of Life.  The ancient text, which dates to somewhat before the Khurban, the destruction of the Second Temple, could be written with the same words today (only vowel conventions would be changed).

It is this second line, the middle bracha that speaks so loudly through the ages.  Our hearts become enlightened with the knowledge of the One and we become educated and dedicated to the Da'at, the knowledge in the world of Asiyah that transcends us into the other worlds.  With educated and dedicated hearts, we can become elevated into the place where Shalom, peace, can be drawn from world to world.

I had always been troubled by the traditional translation of the Priestly brachas because khuneka, usually translated as gracious (kh-n), is from the root of kh-n-ch, education, knowledge, dedication.  If we translated the traditional text as "May the One enlighten you by facing you and educating you", many might ask just what is it about that we to be educated?  I think the ancient text, hidden for centuries in the arid place between troubled Yerusalayim and the Dead Sea, might just have a few clues for us.  
It is a question I had actually wondered about for quite some time, supplying various answers.  I had never been completely satisfied with the traditional English rendering of the brachas and have always known that they contained much more of an allusion than we are typically taught.  B'da'at olamim, knowledge of the worlds, would be a wonder-full thing with which to be blessed and it fits with the power I have always felt within the traditional brachas.

The traditional words will never be quite the same for me after studying this little glimpse of what we seem to have known and hid in caves almost 2000 years ago.

Shafir Lobb
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A section of the Community Rule Scroll from cave 4
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