The Blessing of the Kohanim

In parshas Nasso is recorded the Birchas Kohanim, the Priestly Benediction. The benediction is a powerful and beautiful blessing that expresses Hashem’s greatest blessings upon the Jewish People. The Kohanim (those who come from the Priestly family) have the responsibility and honor to serve as Hashem’s messengers to impart these special blessings to His people.

The blessing is recited in the Musaf prayer during the three main festivals.

The following is a compendium of various commentaries and thoughts on this blessing. The Torah says[1]:

Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: So Shall you bless the Children of Israel, saying to them: May HaShem bless you and safeguard you. May HaShem illuminate his countenance for you and be gracious to you. May HaShem lift his countenance to you and establish peace for you. Let them place My name upon the children of Israel, and I shall bless them.


For Whom is the Mitzvah

The Ba’al Ha’hafla-ah writes (כתובות כד,ב) in the name of the Sefer Chareidim, that although the Torah only clearly states the positive commandment for the Kohen (priest) to bless, as the verse says, כה תברכו את בני ישראל – “So shall you bless the Jewish people,” there is a positive commandment on the Yisroel [the Jewish person receiving the blessing] as well, to receive the blessing from the Kohen.

(בעל ההפלאה כתובות כד,ב)

The Ability to Love

The Kohanim say in their bracha that they are blessingthe Jewish people lovingly. How can it be that every single Kohen loves every Jewish person?

One answer can be found by the fact that the Kohanim preface the blessing with the statement, “That you have sanctified us with the sanctity of Ahron.” The character trait of Ahron was that he “loved peace, and he pursued peace and he loved all creatures…[2]” This trait, passed down to all Kohanim, gives them the ability to love.

(לב שמחה פ’ נשא-תשמ”ג)

A Blessing of Love

During the time of the Baal HaTanya there were periods of time during which there was tremendous poverty by the Jews in Russia. The chassidim at that time sent a delegation to the Baal HaTanya, which included the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the great tzadik, Rabbi Ahron of Strashela, and the chossid, Reb Pinchos Reitzis.

When they came to the Baal Hatanya, he said to them, “The blessing for livelihood must have a receptacle to contain it. The receptacle is love and comradery; there shouldn’t be any jealousy or libel among the Jewish people. The source that the vessel for this blessing is love, comes from the Birchas Kohanim.

In the blessing that the Kohanim recite before they say the Birchas Kohanim it is said, לברך את עמו ישראל באהבה –“to bless His nation Israel with love.” The Jewish People are being blessed with love towards one another, which will thus bring about all the rest of the blessings.

(ספר השיחות תרצ”ו עמ רפג)

The Ultimate Blessing

The Chasam Sofer explains that the brachah of Birchas Kohanim is a comprehensive blessing. It starts off with יברכך – that Hashem should bless you with money and wealth, וישמרך – that the money should be guarded, and that since the nature is that those who have money have others who are jealous of them, the Passuk therefore says, ויחונך – that you should be blessed with grace. Furthermore however, since man’s nature is that “he who has a hundred wants an additional two hundred,[3]” and man is never satisfied, the brachah therefore continues, וישם לך שלום – that you should find inner peace.

(תורת משה פרשת נשא)

A True Blessing

It is possible that a person can get caught up with the physical blessings. It is for this reason that it was specifically the Kohanim, the segment of the Jewish people who were involved in the service which was the most removed from the mundane world, who blessed the Jewish people. This comes to teach us that ultimately the true blessing is ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל – that Hashem will rest among the Jewish people.

(תורת משה פרשת נשא)

Bless with Love

The Zohar says that any Kohen that does not love the congregation should not participate in Birchas Kohanim. This is because of the posuk, טוב עין הוא יבורך – “He with a good eye should be blessed[4].” The Zohar says, do not read that, “He with a good eye shall be blessed,” rather read, “He with a good eye shall bless others.”

(זח”ג קמז,ב)

The Nusach Ha-bracha

The Magen Avraham asks, “Why is it that in the brachah of Birchas Kohanim the Kohen says, לברך את עמו ישראל באהבה – “to bless the Jewish people out of love?” Where do we find such a command from Hashem?

He answers, that because of the Zohar’s statement that only a Kohen who loves the congregation should bless, this nusach ha-bracha (version of the blessing’s text) was set.

(מג”א סי’ קכח סקי”ח)

A Danger

The Shulchan Aruch instructs that a Kohen who hates a congregant should leave shul and not do Birchas Kohanim, since saying Birchas Cohanim while hating a congregant is dangerous for the Kohen.

The Zohar brings a story of a Kohen who once stood up to say Birchas Kohanim, and before he finished he became a pile of bones. The reason, the Zohar explains, is that he did not bless from love!

(זהר פרשת נשא קמז,ב ,שלחן ערוך הרב סי’ קכח סעי’ יט)

The Kavana

In all mitzvos there is both the general intent of the mitzvah and the specific intent. So too is with the mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim.

The general intent is to fulfill the mitzvah of the Holy one, Blessed be He, to bless the Jewish people lovingly. The specific intent is that Hashem should fill up all that is lacking in the Jewish people. Physically—with proper health, good livelihood, and with healthy offspring and spiritually—that they should do the mitzvos, set aside time for learning, rectify all negative character traits through Ahavas Yisroel (love of a fellow Jew) and serve Hashem with a complete heart.

(אג”ק מוהריי”צ חלק ח’ עמ’ קצז)

Three “Yuds”

The Klei Yakar points out that each of the statements in the blessing begin with the letter Yud: “Yivarechecha”, “Ya’er”, and Yisa”. The numerical value of the letter Yud is ten. However, every letter can be written as just the letter itself, or it can be written as it sounds spelled out as a word. In the case of the Yud, it can be spelled, Yud-Vav-Daled. The numerical value of the Vav and Daled together is again ten.

The Klei Yakar explains that a person is made up of ten physical components and ten spiritual components. The ten physical components are as follows: The sinews, the bones, the brain in his head, the nails, the white of the eye, [these are the five that the father contributes to the creation of his child. The other five physical components which are given by mother are:] the skin, the flesh, the blood, the hair and the black of the eye.

In addition, there are an additional ten components that the Holy One, Blessed be He contributes to the person, and they are: the spirit, the soul, the complexion of the face, the ability for the eye to see, the ability for the ear to hear, the speech of the tongue, the ability for the feet to walk, and the three intellectual faculties of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

The Kohen has the ability to bless a person who is made up of these twenty parts through lifting up his ten fingers. The physicality of his ten fingers affects the physicality of the Jew, while the spirituality of his ten fingers affects the spiritual side of the Jew.

(כלי יקר במדבר ו,כד)

And I Shall Bless Them

If the Kohen performs the Brichas Kohanim properly, then Hashem says, ואני אברכם – “I shall bless them.” There are two explanations on this verse, both of which are ultimately true. A) I (Hashem) will bless Israel. The Kohanim are a conduit for Hashem’s blessings, but the blessings truly come from Hashem himself. B) After the Kohanim bless Israel, Hashem will then bless the Kohanim.

(רש”י במדבר ו,כז)

A Gift from the Almighty

Rashi points out the difference in the way Hashem gives a blessing and the way that a mere mortal can bless: When a mortal gives someone a present there is no way of ensuring that the present is not later stolen. Not so with the Holy one, Blessed be He, Who gives a present and protects it as well.

(רש”י במדבר ו,כד)

Bridging the Gap

The Ohr Hachayim points out that this blessing has a tremendous power to reconnect the Jew with HaShem, thus bringing about unity between the Jewish people and HaShem. He explains that the blessing יאר ה’ פניו אליך – “May HaShem shine His face to you,” means that nothing will act as a separation to divide the Jewish people from their Father in Heaven. Through this blessing HaShem exudes his Shechinah upon the Jewish people.

The Ohr HaChayim goes on to explain the verse וישם לך שלום” – “May He place peace upon you” as follows: That which separates the Jewish people from HaShem and brings about disharmony (the opposite of shalom and shleimus with HaShem) is sin, as the verse states “Only sin separates you from HaShem your G-d”. This blessing has the power to bridge this chasm and even overcome the effects of our sins, thus binding us to our Father in Heaven!

(אור החיים ו,כד)

A Perfect Circuit

Chassidus explains that the word Brachah means to draw down. In other words, the power of a blessing is that it draws down new G-dly light into the world, not only spiritually, but physically as well. The Blessing (or drawing down) of Birchas Kohanim creates a perfect circuit for the flow of G-dly energy, in that this blessing creates a connection between all the Sefiros, thus creating a complete Partzuf (stature). This happens as follows; The Cohen corresponds to the intellectual Sefiros. Since the arms and hands represent kindness and severity and are an extension of the heart, therefore when he raises his hands in blessing, this represents raising the emotions so that they are controlled by the intellect. He Blesses the Jewish people, who are called, “The sons of Kings” and correspond to Kingship (the sefirah of Malchus). Altogether, this brings about a complete Partzuf of the ten sefiros, which creates a perfect conduit for HaShem’s G-dly energy to be drawn down to the world.

(היום יום כב אדר ב)

[1] Bamidbar 6:22-27

[2] Avos 1:12

[3] Kohelet Rabba 1:34

[4] Mishlei 22:9

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