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Home » Naso

Naso : The Priestly Blessing of Love

Submitted by on May 18, 2005 – 1:42 amOne Comment | 1,633 views

The Ritual

If you have ever been to the Synagogue during the Priestly blessing, you know it is a celestial experience. The Kohen removes his shoes, approaches the podium his fase hidden behind his prayer shawl. He extends his hands towards the congregation, fingers parted and palms stretched outwards, he awaits, in anticipation of the holy moment.

The people in the congregation turn their faces or hide behind their own prayer shawls to avoid gazing directly upon the Kohen for it is believed that the divine presence rests upon the Kohen during this time (which is why the Kohen removes his shoes.) (1)

Prompted by the cantor, the Kohen soberly intones the sacred words of the blessing. “May G-d bless you and keep you. May G-d shine his countenance upon you and may he be gracious to you. May G-d lift his countenance upon you and may he give you peace.” (2)

As the service draws to a close, a sense of rapture envelops the congregation, and many communities break out in joyful song. Somehow they sense that they have just been blessed by G-d, the giver of all blessing. Somehow they feel elated, lifted to a higher plane, almost as if G-d had just reached down from his celestial throne, scooped them up and drawn them close.

What is it about the Priestly blessing that triggers such euphoria? Why does it have the power to uplift? How does this blessing differ from those we utter ourselves?

Two Forms of Request

My son loves to play ball in the yard. He often asks me play with him, and I enjoy every minute of it. How I wish that I could grant his request every time. Unfortunately, I am often forced to turn him down because of my time constraints.

My son knows how much I enjoy his company and he feels sorry for me. There are times when he actually suggests that we play for my sake. Instead of saying, “Can you play with me, Dad,” he says, “How would you like to take a break, dad, and I’ll play with you.”

When he puts it that way, I find it almost impossible to resist. Here is my little son, who instead of being concerned with his own fun, is eager to provide me with the enjoyment of his company. Only one thought floods my mind at that time: I love this little boy and nothing is more important to me than my time with him.

When he phrases it that way, all other considerations somehow fade. All other tasks somehow lose their significance. At that time only one thought consumes my mind: my son loves me and I love him too.

Two Forms of Prayer

The average Jew approaches G-d in prayer to ask for blessing. We contemplate our lives and our needs and then proceed to make our requests of G-d. G-d listens carefully. He listens to our words but he reads our hearts. “You have needs that you want me to fulfill,” G-d muses, “but I have desires that I want you to fulfill. Let’s see how well you tend to my desires. Then I’ll decide how well I shall tend to yours.”

A Kohen approaches G-d differently. He pours his heart out in prayer and says, “Dear G-d, I know how much you love your children and how much you enjoy providing for them. Happily I am in a position to offer you one such opportunity. This is what your children lack and here is how you might engage in your favorite pastime of providing for them.”

The Kohen, a descendant of Aaron, inherits Aaron’s spiritual qualities. The Hebrew name Aharon is an abbreviation of two Hebrew words, Ahavah Rabbah – great love. Aaron was famous for his loving character. He loved G-d and he loved Jews.

When he prayed for the Jewish people, he could not help but reflect upon the two objects of his love. On the one hand, he thought of the people and their needs. On the other hand, he thought of G-d’s love for the people and of how much G-d enjoys giving to them.

Aaron, completely guileless, prayed in absolute devotion and love. His loving fervor, in turn, aroused G-d’s love. G-d would listen attentively and say, “You desire to provide for me and I desire to provide for you.” The Kohen, who inherited this quality from Aaron, is endowed with the ability to do the same. (3)

Extended Palms

This explains why the Kohen extends his palms outward towards the congregation rather than the traditional  posture for prayer, upwards towards G-d. With his palm, the Kohen forms a vessel into which G-d pours a blessing. A palm extended upwards forms a vessel for ourselves from which we may later drink. A palm extended outwards forms a vessel through which G-d channels his blessing to others. (1)

The Kohen at this time is not a supplicant but a conduit. He asks not for our sake but for G-d’s sake. He asks not so that we can gather but so that G-d can give. It is his manner of asking that G-d loves most. It elicits an accelerated response from above that is impervious to any and all obstacles. (4)

In Love

This is why the Kohen introduces his blessing with the words, “Ho who blesses his children with love.” He speaks of the love between G-d and the Jewish people. He also speaks of the love among the Jewish people themselves, for when his children are united, the vessel is made whole and properly performs its function.

Our sages wrote that the vessel best suited to hold blessing is unity. (5) Without unity the vessel is fractured; with unity the vessel is strong. The Hebrew word for vessel is “Kli.” Kli is an acronym for “Kohen” “Levi” and “Yisrael,” the three congregations of which  the Jewish community is comprised – Priests, Levites and Israelites.

When Jews love each other, the three components of the “Kli” are united and our vessel is strong. When we are splintered into disparate groups the vessel wears thin, making it difficult for the Kohen to successfully channel blessing to the community. (6)

Footnotes

  1. The laws that govern these blessings can be found in the Code of Jewish law, Orach Chayim, ch. 128. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to gaze upon a Kohen during the chanting of the blessing (Chagigah 16a). Rashi explains that this is because the Shechinah (presence of G-d) rests upon the Kohen at this time, especially his outstretched hands, fingers and knuckles. (Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes 1040-1105 France)
  2. Numbers; 6, 24-26.
  3. See Leikutei Torah Numbers, p. 55b. (R. Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813)
  4. See Commentary of Kedushas Levi on Numbers; 6, 23. (R’ Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, 1740-1810)
  5. Mishnah Tractate of Uktzin, ch. 3
  6. See Commentary of Ksav Sofer on Numbers; 6, 23. (R Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer of Pressburg 1815-1879)
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