Birkat Kohanim by Moshe Davis


In this week’s Parashah, Parashat Naso, Birkat Kohanim is related to Moshe by Hashem, as He says, “Dabeir El Aharon VeEl Banav Leimor Koh Tevarachu Et Bnei Yisrael Amor Lahem: Yevarech’cha Hashem VeYishmerecha, Ya’eir Hashem Panav Eilecha ViChuneka, Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha VeYaseim Lecha Shalom,” “Say to Aharon and his sons, and this is how you will bless them saying: may Hashem bless you and protect you, may Hashem cause His countenance to shine upon you and favor you, and may Hashem lift his face to you and grant you peace” (BeMidbar 6:23-26). We are very familiar with this Berachah, as we say it often, whether it be in the beginning of Davening, Chazarat HaShatz, or Duchaning on Yom Tov (or every day in Eretz Yisrael). However, there are many ways to interpret what the Berachah is actually talking about.

Rashi gives one approach as he dissects the Berachah phrase by phrase. In the first line, “Yevarechecha” refers to one’s possessions being blessed, and “VeYishmerecha” refers to being protected from thieves. Rashi goes on to write that “Ya’eir Hashem Panav Eilecha” means that Hashem should not merely shine His countenance on us, but it should be a joyous, radiant countenance. The third line of Birkat Kohanim, “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha,” is interpreted by Rashi as meaning, “may He subdue His anger and grant us peace.”

Abarbanel has a different approach, that each of the three lines is aimed at a particular segment of the nation. He writes that the first line refers to workers – “their work should be blessed.” The second part is directed at scholars, because their Berachah is that they should be shined upon by Hashem’s countenance, allowing them to understand as much as possible. The third line discusses soldiers – “they should be blessed with peace.”

Now that we have an understanding of the Berachah itself, we can take a look at the previous Pasuk: “Koh Tevarechu Et Bnei Yisrael,” “This is how you will bless them.” The word Koh seems superfluous, as the Pasuk could have merely written:

“Barechu Et Bnei Yisrael Amor Lahem.” The Midrash Rabbah (BeReishit 43:11) gives an explanation that the Avot merited these Berachot for us based on three other Pesukim where Koh is written. By Avraham it says, “Koh Yihyeh Zar’echa,” “So will be your children” (BeReishit 15:5). By Yitzchak it is written, “VaAni VeHaNa’ar Neilchah Ad Koh,” “I and the child will go yonder” (22:5). By Yaakov it is written, “Koh Tomar LeVeit Ya’akov,” “So shall you say to the house of Yaakov” (Shemot 19:3). Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky in his Sefer VeDibarta Bam explains that each of these Pesukim emphasizes a specific quality for the Jews to be worthy of the Birkat Kohanim. The Pasuk by Avraham is in the context of the Berit Bein HaBetarim, in which Hashem promises him that his children will be like the stars. By comparing the Jewish people to stars, Hashem teaches a lesson in Ahavat Yisrael. A star looks very small and unimportant from far away, but in reality is huge and powerful. Similarly, a Jew might look small and seem worthless, but if one comes “closer” to him, he/she will see how vastly important each person is. Yitzchak’s Pasuk is in the context of the Akeidah, where Avraham came imminently close to sacrificing his son, Yitzchak, to Hashem. This story shows us how dedicated and devoted the Avot were to Hashem. The last Pasuk of Yaakov is found right before Matan Torah in Hashem’s instruction to Moshe. in that Pasuk, Hashem tells the women among the nation that they should set an atmosphere in their homes that is suitable for learning Torah. We see that by fulfilling Ahavat Yisrael, being devoted to Hashem, and learning Hashem’s Torah, we merit the blessings in the Birkat Kohanim. Hopefully, by doing so, we will grow spiritually and feel that we are truly blessed.

The Perplexing Punishment by Eitan Leff

Details Count by Dr. Joel M. Berman