יברכך ה׳ וישמרך
יאר ה׳ פניו אליך ויחנך
ישא ה׳ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
(במדבר ו׳ כ״ד-כ״ו)
May Hashem bless you and safeguard you.
May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you.
May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.
As I mentioned last year
, Rosh Chodesh Av (today) is the Yahrtzeit of Aharon HaKohein
. I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the special blessing that was given through Aharon and his descendants - especially as the blessing culminates with the blessing of peace. Indeed, when Pinchas
was elevated to his position as kohein, Hashem gave him His "covenant of peace". Normally, a kohein who kills someone is not allowed to be oleh leduchan
. Not coincidentally, Birchat Kohanim
is said immediately before the last bracha of Shemona Esrei
, that of Sim Shalom
- the blessing of peace. The last mishna
(Uktzin 3:12) ends with the statement: "G-d did not find any vessel to hold Blessing, other than the vessel of Peace".
In Israel, kohanim go up to bless the people with this threefold blessing every day. Outside of eretz Yisrael, nesiyat kapayim
is only performed on the holidays. In Israel, there is a special gathering every Chol HaMoed (once each Pesach and Sukkot), where thousands of kohanim bless many thousands of people.
Here are a couple of clips I found of Birchat Kohanim at the Kotel: see a wide view of the entire plaza (from 5766) here
(cuts off in the last bracha), or a view from within the crowd (from 5767) here
(begins with last bracha).
There are many interpretations as to the exact meaning of the threefold blessing. I will try to distill the major commentators as to the "simple" meaning (pshat).
Most commentators explain that the first bracha refers to the physical. Rashi: May Hashem increase your possessions. Ibn Ezra: and the days of your life. As Sforno points out, אם אין קמח, אין תורה
(if there is no flour there is no Torah
). On the second part of the blessing, veyishmerecha
, Rashi comments that while a gift given by man can later be stolen by thieves, only Hashem can truly safeguard what has been given.
The second blessing refers to the spiritual. As we have previously noted
" - the root of the word "Ya'eir
" - often refers to Torah knowledge. Or, as the Ramban says, the light of the Shechina. The second part, viychuneka
- is alternately interpreted as refering to our finding favor in others' eyes, and our finding favor in God's eyes, meaning that he would listen to our entreaties immediately.
Sforno says that the third bracha refers to Olam Haba
- the World to Come. The Ramban says that it refers to The Davidic kingdom (perhaps the same idea). On a simpler level, Rashi says it means, "May He supress His anger". The Gemara (in Rosh Hashana 17b and elsewhere) deals with the apparent contradiction between this verse and (Deut. 10:17) "Who does not lift His countenance (forgive undeservedly) and does not accept bribes". One answer given is that God mercifully forgives sins against Him, but will not show favor to those who sin against their fellow-man unless they obtain forgiveness from them first. Rav Mordechai Willig
beautifully explains that each of the three brachot are actually a set of two; the first part being a blessing which can turn into a curse, and the second a means to safeguard the first.
On a deeper level, Kli Yakar picks up on the fact that all three brachos start with the letter י
. Yud, he explains, not only has a gematria value of 10, but has an "inner" or "hidden" value of 10 - "yud" is spelled יוד - yud-vav-dalet, and the "hidden" part, vav (6) and dalet (4) add up to 10 as well. He relates this to the Gemara that says
There are three partners in the formation of a child -- Hashem, the father and the mother; The father contributes white seed, which forms bones, sinews, (finger and toe) nails, the brain, and the white of the eyes [5 physical things]; The mother contributes red seed, which forms skin, flesh, bones, blood and hair [5 physical things]; Hashem puts in Ru'ach (breath), a Neshamah, radiance of the face, sight, hearing, speech, the ability to walk, understanding and knowledge. [10 spiritual, or "inner", unseen things] (Nidda 31a)
As the Kohein extends his ten fingers in blessing over the people, each represents a physical and spiritual blessing, as represented by the yud that begins each bracha.
Altogether, this adds up to 60 - the same as the total number of letters in Birchat Kohanim, as represented in the Passuk hinei mitaso shelishlomo shishim giborim saviv lo
(Shir HaShirim 3:7)
The Baal HaTurim says that the three blessings are in the merit of the Avot
- represents Avraham, as it says vaHashem beirach es Avraham bakol
(Gen 24:1). The three words in the bracha represent the three times bracha is mentioned in the beginning of Lech Lecha (ibid 12:2-3) - vaAverech'cha, vaAvarcha mevorchecha, and veNivrechu vecha..
- represents Yitzchak; the Baal HaTurim quotes a Pirkei d'Rebi Eliezer
that at the time of the Akeida, Yitzchak actually died and was immediately brought back to life; thus Hashem "he'ir et einav
". Taken backwards, the word ya'eir
, as in the korban re'iyah
. Also, the 20 letters in the bracha are symbolic of the 20 generations that Yitzchak followed, and the 5 words represent the chamishei chumshei Torah
that Yitzchak kept.ישא
- represents Ya'akov, as it says vaYisa Ya'akov raglav
(29:1) and it says veShavti veShalom
(28:21). 25 letters are in the verse, as it says koh somar leVeis Ya'akov
(Shmos 19:3), and 7 words, representing the seven years in which most of Ya'akov's sons were born. [This is what the Baal HaTurim writes. I immediately recalled an amazing Megaleh Amukos that I once learned, where he asks the well-known question: "When Yosef interpreted Pharaoh's dream, what made him think it was ok for him to give advice?! Pharaoh didn't ask for advice..". In one of the (seventeen!) answers he brings, he says, Yoseif knew that the dream was all about Ya'akov and his family. All of Ya'akov's life revolved around sevens. He worked for seven years for Rachel, was tricked and given Leah instead, and worked another seven years to marry Rachel, too. He learned for 14 years (2 x 7) in the yeshiva of Shem V'Ever
. And, the gematria of יעקב
is seven times the gematria of the name of Hashem
Finally, the Baal Haturim says that Shalom has the same gematria as Eisav, showing that one should always try to be first to greet (wish Shalom) to his fellow-man - even if he is from Eisav.
As we enter this most difficult of periods on the Jewish calendar, may Hashem grant us all His material blessings of wealth and health, His spiritual blessings of wisdom and favor, and most importantly, peace amongst each other which will help lead to the ultimate redemption and true peace in the entire world.