Parshat Naso 5778: Birkhat Kohanim — Hashem’s Conduit for Brachot — Up Close and Personal

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Naso is being sponsored Dr. Pinchas and Penina Klahr of Ramat Beit Shemesh lilui nishmas Pinchas’ Father, Nosson Karpel ben Shmuel Zanvil Tzvi (Klahr) and Penina’s Father, Rav Matisyohu ben Rav Yaakov (Weisenberg). To the Klahr family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for 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 forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Naso 5778: Birkhat Kohanim — Hashem’s Conduit for Brachot — Up Close and Personal

by Moshe Burt

Once again, this year our Parshat Naso falls out on the Shabbos following 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 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 innocence, the Nazirite of abstinence from wine or alcohol.

We also learn about 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 unusual. 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 noting posuk 27 (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posuk 27, as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash, page 762) 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 “R’zei”; the blessing in which we pray for the return of the Beit HaMikdash 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.

In our Parshat, Torah relates (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posukim 22-23 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash):

“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the B’nei Yisrael, saying to them:”

The sefer “Torah Gems”, by Ahaon Yaakov Greenberg provides a citing on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posukim 22-23 (Volume lll, page 36):

“So shall you bless” Nowhere in Torah is there a commandment that the Kohanim must bless Israel, because by their nature the Kohanim wish to aid others (Zohar Naso 145). They themselves will wish to bless the Jews, and that is why there is no need to command them to do so. The commandment here only tells them how to go about blessing the people. (R’ Avraham Mordechai of Gur)

We find, in learning about Birkhat Kohanim, further connection between the Jews and Eretz Yisrael. For we learn that just as the B’nei Yisrael are blessed and guided directly by Hashem whereas the fates other nations are guided indirectly, through molochim (angels), we also learn in the Gemara Tractate Ta’anis (Yud, Amud Aleph — Page 10a) that HaKadosh Borchu Personally sees to rain in Eretz Yisrael, whereas the rain for the rest of the world comes indirectly. The Gemara discusses the special care given the Land of Israel:

The Rabbis taught in a Braisa: The Land of Israel was created first, and all of the rest of the world was created afterward, as it is stated (in Proverbs 8:26); before He made the land and the outskirts. The verse indicates that one land was created before the others, and the Braisa presumes that it was the Land of Israel. Footnote 4: This verse, as well as in other verses cited by the Braisa, Eretz Yisrael is called… “the Land,” denoting its favored status in the eyes of Hashem. Hence, it is the principal land and all others are subordinate to it. (Maharsha)

HaKadosh Borchu, Personally Waters the Land of Israel, but all the rest of the world is watered by an agent of Hashem. As it is stated: Who Gives Rain upon the face of the Land, a reference to the Land of Israel, and sends water upon the face of the outskirts, a reference to all the other lands, which are watered by Hashem’ agents.

Footnote 5: Each land’s rainfall is controlled by its constellation or by the celestial… appointed over it. However, Eretz Yisrael’s rainfall is personally administered by Hashem (Maharsha). Thus, Eretz Yisrael is the focus of Hashem’s special Providence. (Rashba in Ein Yaakov)

And so, Birkhat Kohanim from under the Tallit (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 6, posukim 24-26 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash):

“Y’vaarechicha Hashem V’Yishm’recha:” “May Hashem bless you and safeguard you.”

“Yaa’eir Hashem Paanaav Eilechaa V’y’chunechaa” “May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you.”

“May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.” “Y’saa Hashem Paanaav Eilechaa V’Yaaseim L’chaa Shalom.”

May we, the B’nei 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 and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three and 3/4 years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila 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 Al’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.