The blessing is worked into other parts of the Tanach, especially Psalm 6, sung in some communities before Ma’ariv at the end of the weekly Shabbat.
The familiar phrases are there: “God be gracious to us and bless us: may He make His face shine towards us”. There are some interesting changes, however. The original blessing focusses on “you” (“The Lord bless you and keep you”); here it is “us”.
Who is the “us”? At first sight we think it is the Jewish people, and we are certainly part of the answer, but the subsequent verses refer to “the nations”.
Samson Raphael Hirsch comments, “Through the knowledge spread among the nations by the presence of Israel in their midst, all the nations will be brought to do homage to God… Then God shall bless us; then we shall have reached the goal of all our mission among the nations”.
Hirsch also points out that where the text says, “May He make His face shine towards us”, here we have “amongst us”, suggesting that whilst we start by asking God to turn His countenance in our direction, now we ask that His presence be seen in every aspect of our lives, in who we are and what we do, not only on our faces and outer appearance.