Parshat Naso 5774: Three Why’s of the Priestly Blessings

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Naso is being sponsored anonymously in honor of the Bornstein family for all of their kindness and service to the RBS community. To our anonymous sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Naso 5774: Three Why’s of the Priestly Blessings

by Moshe Burt

In the last couple of years, our Parsha Naso fell out on the Shabbos after Shavuot, but this year it falls out on the Shabbos before Shavuot.

Our Parshat is devoted in large part to counting, and delineating the duties of the three Levite families: Gershon, Kehas and Merari. It also discusses Hashem’s Command that B’nai Yisrael purify the encampment by by removing all of those with tumah to outside camp as well as the inauguration of the Mishkan and the twelve repetitions of the gifts given for the Mishkan by the tribes. Our Parshat enunciates four laws involving the Kohanim: One’s atonement for theft from a neighbor, with emphasis on theft from a convert to Judaism, the wayward wife or the wife so suspected who must submit to drinking from waters of Sotah (waters of bitterness) to ascertain guilt or inocence, the Nazirite of abstinence from wine or alcohol, and the Birkhat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessings) — the part of the service in the Mishkan, later in the Beit Hamikdash and today, daily in Shuls throughout Eretz Yisrael where the Kohanim are as conduits in conveying Hashem’s Blessings upon Am Yisrael. In most places outside of Eretz Yisrael, Birkhat Kohanim is pronounced in Shuls only on Yom Tovim.

There are, however, two questions regarding the Birkhat Kohanim: Why are they all pronounced in the singular, rather than the plural? And why, when pronouncing the Birkhat Kohanim, do the Kohanim face the kehillah, rather than the Aron HaKodesh?

Rav Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer “Growth Through Torah” (page 316) cites Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov and comments as to why singular rather than plural:

Rabbi Moshe Leib said that this is to teach us that the greatest blessing is togetherness. When we feel as if we are one unit, in this itself there is a great blessing.

It is easy to focus on the differences among people and to consider yourself as separate from the others. No two people are exactly alike. But there are many common factors among people. By focusing on the fact that every human is created in the image of the Almighty you will have greater identification with others and this will lead to greater unity.

The unity of togetherness with our fellow Jews and diversity within Halacha, rather than separation from one’s fellow observant Jews is certainly a lesson to be learned in our times. For we have learned, via the twelve repetitions of the gifts given for the Mishkan by the tribes, that while the gifts were all the same, each tribe offered it’s own unique presentation of their gifts.

Rabbi Mordechai Katz, in his Sefer “L’ilmod U’lamed” (page 133) discusses the direction faced by the Kohanim when pronouncing the Priestly Blessings:

When the Kohanim bless the people, as specified in the Torah, they do something rather unsual. Instead of facing the Aron, as all Chazonim do, they turn around and face the congregation. (Sotah 38a, Orach Chaim 128) Why do they shift their attention and their prayers from Hashem and concentrate instead on the assembly? Aren’t prayers usually directed towards Hashem?

Is there really any need for a Kohen to turn to Hashem and ask Him to bless and favor the people of Israel? For Hashem desires that His children, B’nai Yisrael, should at all times be blessed with happiness. It is, therefore, to B’nai Yisrael that the Kohen must direct his words, to urge them to act in accordance with Hashem’s Will. If they do so, Hashem will provide for their welfare without the need for any intermediaries. (Yerushalmi Berachos, Perek 9, Halacha 1; Rambam, Mishnayos, Sanhedrin, Perek 5)

This author, as a Kohen, finds the last phrase of the above citing from R’ Katz in Sefer “L’ilmod U’lamed” puzzling, and thus a third “why”:

…without the need for any intermediaries.

The Artscroll, Stone Chumash, aka “Rabbi Artscroll” provides commentary on Birkhat Kohanim (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posukim 22-27, page 762) and noting posuk 27 which may give clarity to the above phrase:

“Let them place My Name upon B’nai Yisrael and I shall bless them.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posuk 27)

Moshe was commanded to instruct the Kohanim that they would have the privilege and duty to bless the nation of Israel, … for all time. This does not mean that they would have any independent power to confer or withhold blessings — only Hashem can assure people of success, abundance and happiness — but that part of their… service is to be the conduit through which Hashem’s blessings would be pronounced upon His people. …These blessings are inserted in the Shemoneh Esrei [of the morning Shacharit service] after רצה, the blessing in which we pray for the return of the Temple service to Jerusalem. To emphasize that the ultimate blessings are Hashem’s alone, this passage concludes with Hashem’s assurance that He will confer his own blessing on the B’nei Yisrael. (citing R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, z”l)

In short, posuk 27 seems indicative of the Kohanim entreating B’nai Yisrael, repeatedly conveying, via the Birkhat Kohanim, the charge “to act in accordance with Hashem’s Will,” that they be blessed with happiness and success for doing so.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.