So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them. (Bemidbar / Numbers 6:27; ESV)
This week's parsha (Torah portion) contains the well-known blessing that God entrusted to Moses' brother Aaron and his descendants, the cohanim (English: priests). Through this blessing they were to put God's name on the people of Israel.
When we read of God's name, we need to keep in mind that in that culture a name communicated something of the nature of the person or thing being named. Names were not simply a label in the way names are used today, where it is not uncommon for a person to be given a name because their parents like the sound of it. It is interesting that many if not most people today don't even know the meaning of their own names.
So when the cohanim were to put God's name on the people, it was not about the sounds of the consonants and vowels. The pronouncement of this blessing was not a magical formula that in itself caused things to happen to the hearers. It was what the blessing signified; its meaning made the difference. This is not to say that they could have used any words they wanted, since meaning is conveyed through words. Yet at the same time, saying the right words in themselves has no power.
The name that the cohanim were to put on the people is signified by the four Hebrew letters "yod", "hey", "vav", "hey" and is derived from the concept of "to be" or "existence". Its meaning is probably best explained when God referred to himself as "I am who I am" (Shemot / Exodus 3:14). Unlike anything else in the universe, God is the great Being or Self-Existing One. All existence is derived from him, while he is derived from nothing but himself.
The concept of blessing flows from God's self-existence. Blessing is the act of filling something or someone with life. For example, when a tree is fruitful, life, which is derived from God alone, has flowed into the tree resulting in abundant fruit. That process is called "blessing."
The cohanim were God's chosen channels through which blessing flowed. By pronouncing these words, or rather what these words signified, they brought life to the people of Israel.
Interestingly the blessing they were to say, used the singular when speaking to the nation. While God instructs the cohanim to speak to "them", the nation (vv. 22, 27), every use of the word "you" in the blessing itself is singular. God's intention for his people is that each of us individually would receive life from him.
Through the Messiah, we can receive that life. Yeshua is the Cohen HaGadol, the Great High Priest, through whom we can receive the power of God's name. Just as the cohanim of old reminded us that we cannot derive God's blessing on our own, it is through the life, death and resurrection of the Messiah that we can truly know God and be filled with his life.