Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
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by Efraim Levine

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Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying so shall you bless the Children of Yisroel, Say to them… (Bamidbar 6:23).

The commentators are perplexed as to the nature of birchas kohanim. Simply it appears that the kohanim have an independent power to bless the Jewish people. However, we know that this cannot be, because only Hashem is the source of all blessing. Thus it must be that the kohanim only act as Hashem’s agents in channeling Hashem’s blessing to the Jewish people. We may ask; if ultimately the blessing comes from Hashem, why do we need the Kohanim? Let Hashem bless us directly?

It is noteworthy that the kohanim bless the Jewish people with raised hands. What is the significance of blessing in this manner?

The only other place in the Torah where we find an interaction between two individuals that involves the raising of the hands is rabbinical ordination. Moshe was commanded by Hashem to ordain Yehoshua by placing his hand upon him. Let us suggest that because rabbinical ordination and birchas kohanim are the only two instances where hands are used then there must be a strong relationship between the two.

With regard to rabbinical ordination the commentators explain that the hands of the teacher are symbolic of the tradition that he has received from his teacher, etc… who in turn received from Moshe and who in turn received from Hashem at Mount Sinai. The teacher places his hand on the head of the student to symbolize the continuation of this tradition. Rabbinical ordination thus represents the continuation of the oral Torah.

There are two types of blessings. First there is what we may call a new blessing. This is when an individual due to his merits is blessed with something new. There is also what we may call an old blessing. This is when a person is found worthy to receive a gift that was originally given to another. If this individual is found worthy, the blessing is passed down to him. In the Torah we find many instances where Hashem promised to bless us if we do His Will. These blessings refer to something new. However, birchas kohanim represents the passing down of the old gifts that have been bestowed on our ancestors. Birchas kohanim is done is the form of rabbinical ordination where the kohanim who represent the guardians of our past ancestral blessings channel the continuation of these collective blessings to the current generation.

At the conclusion of birchas kohanim the posuk says that the kohanim shall place the name of Hashem on the Jewish people and I will bless them. The commentators are troubled as to the meaning of this posuk following the birchas kohanim. Perhaps we may interpret this to mean that in addition to the continuation of our ancestral blessing Hashem will also grant new blessing.

It is noteworthy that birchas kohanim is always read the week after Shavuos. We may now understand the significance of this. The theme of birchas kohanim is strongly related to our acceptance of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Just as we perpetuate the event of Mount Sinai through rabbinical ordination, likewise we perpetuate the collective blessing that Hashem has bestowed on our ancestors through birchas kohanim.

It is noteworthy that birchas kohanim is recited in Eretz Yisroel every day whereas out side of Eretz Yisroel it is only recited on Yom Tov. The commentators are perplexed as why this is so. There have even been unsuccessful attempts to enact the recital of birchas kohanim on a daily basis outside Eretz Yisroel. Why do we not recite birchas kohanim every day outside of Eretz Yisroel?

The central theme of birchas kohanim is the continuation of our ancestral blessing. The major thrust of these blessings that Hashem gave our ancestors was in connection with Eretz Yisroel. Thus it is only appropriate that we designate the daily recital of birchas kohanim only in Eretz Yisroel and not chutz la’aretz.


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Efraim Levine 5761/2001