FRIDAY, May 25th

Dear Friends,

This week we will read Birkat Hakohanim, the words that Aharon and his sons the priests were commanded to use to bless the people:

May Hashem bless you and protect you.

May Hashem shine His face upon you and be gracious to you.

May Hashem lift up His face towards you and grant you peace.

Indeed, when the Temple stood, the priests would bless the people with these verses each day, and some communities in Israel, they still do.  Even in communities like ours where the custom is for the priests to bless the people only on festivals, these verses are retained as part of our daily liturgy, spoken by the Shaliach Tzibbur, the prayer leader.

This idea of priests blessing the people raises a puzzling question: do mere human beings have the power to grant blessings?  Can the Kohanim, by simply saying these words, as it were, control whether God will grant blessings or not?  Various commentators suggest that the priests are serving merely as the vessels, channeling blessings, which indeed come from God.  The 16th century commentator Rabbi Moshe Alshich, suggests that the priests’ words and gestures are helping prepare the people to receive the blessings that God is dispensing.  Sometimes, God would like to bless us, but we fail to receive the blessing because of our own inattentiveness or shortcomings.  It often happens in life that an opportunity comes along but we pass it up because of fear or lack of confidence, or because we fail to recognize it as the blessing that it is.

May the words of the priestly blessing help remind us to always be open and ready to receive blessing, in whatever form it may appear.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein