Cohen-Levi: The Tribe, the Family Heritage

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The Blessing of the Kohanim

Say to Aharon and his sons… Thus shall you bless the people of Israel.
May HaShem bless you and protect you.
May HaShem shine his face upon you and be gracious unto you.
May HaShem lift up His face to you and may He grant you peace.

Numbers 6:22-26

It is a Mitzvah, a Biblical commandment, for Kohanim to bless the people with the blessing of the Kohanim, as written in the Torah. When the Holy Temple in Jerusalem stood, the blessing was performed daily on the steps leading to the Heichel, the temple building at the conclusion of the morning services. Outside of Israel, Sepharadic congregations generally bless daily, while the custom of the Ashkinazi communities is to bless only during the Additional Service (Musaf) of the major holidays.

The explanation for the general suspension of this Torah Mitzvah among Ashkinazi congregations outside of Israel, is the difficult spiritual conditions in the exile preventing the Kohanim from experiencing the joy and peace of mind necessary to properly give the blessing.

The Kohen’s function is to fulfill the command to serve as a medium through which the Godly influence is transmitted, while it is actually God who blesses the people.

Behold He stands beyond our wall
Watching through the windows,
Glancing through the cracks…

Song of songs 2:9-10

The Midrash interprets this to mean that, God stands behind the Kohanim as they deliver his blessings, shining his presence through their outstretched hands.

The blessing of the Kohanim, who represent sanctity and kindness, serves to open the Heavenly gates of mercy, thus forestalling harsh judgement and allowing God’s blessing to flow upon his people.

Blessings can be classified within three general categories: (1) from God to man, a bestowing of his goodness, (2) from man to God in gratitude for permission to partake of his world, or before performing a specific command and, (3) man to man invoking God’s beneficence upon the recipient of the blessing.

The Blessing of the Kohanim involves all these. Kohanim bless God for the privilege of his commandment to extend the blessing to his people. Through the blessing of the Kohanim, they call upon God to invoke his blessing on the people. God participates in the blessing by responding and extending His manifest blessing upon the people as well as upon the Kohanim.

The Mitvah of blessing the people of Israel was given to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, for all time. With the destruction of the Temple, the service and the offerings have been (temporarily) discontinued. However the blessings of the Kohanim was never discontinued and continues to be the one Torah Mitzvah of the Temple Service performed by the Kohanim without the Temple.

The Torah requires six basic conditions for the proper fulfillment of this Mitzvah. The Blessing must be said: (1) in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, (2) while standing, (3) with raised hands, (4) with God’s name (explicitly pronounced in the Temple), (5) while facing the congregation and, (6) in an audible voice.

The thoughts and intentions of the Kohanim are critical as they recite the Blessing. They should feel love towards the members of the congregation and know the basic meaning of the Hebrew words. They should concentrate on blessing the people with material well-being – including offspring and long life-as well as extending spiritual blessing to turn judgement to mercy, and extend Divine protection and peace.

(from the Shulchan Aruch, section 128)

  1. If you have not begun to move [toward the ark] during the Ratzeh (Temple Service) blessing, you may no longer go up.
  2. Raise your arm to shoulder height.
  3. Recite the blessing… in an audible voice.
  4. Do not begin repeating a word before the Chazan has completed it.
  5. Wait until the Chazan begins the Sim Shalom blessing (peace) and turn to face the Ark.
  6. Do not leave the area until the Chazan has completed the blessing.

A Kohen who blesses is himself blessed.

The Heritage