A Blessing on Your Head

This morning, I attended the twice-annual Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel. Every year, during Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Chol HaMoed Pesach hundreds of Kohanim stand and bless the thousands who come to receive G-d’s blessing. I have attended this public Priestly Blessing many times over the years. This time, there were some similarities to prior times; but in some respects,this time was radically different.

As in past times, there were literally tens of thousands of participants who came from all over for this blessing. Jews of all types: Chassidishe, Litvish, Kippa Sruga, Black hat, no kippa. Women with and without head-coverings, skirts, pants…you name it, and all forms of Judaism were represented. As in previous times, the crowd, although quite large, was rather tame and not unruly, at all. And as in prior times, the single-mindedness of the crowd was quite clear: We had all come to receive a blessing–one that lasted less than two minutes, yet the effects of which would linger for a long time. We all came to receive this special blessing from G-d, via His conduits, the Kohanim.

But this time was different for me. In the past, I came early for the first recitation of the blessing, which came during the repetition of Shemona Esray of Shacharit. THIS time, however, I came later so that I would be blessed during the Mussaf service.

And then it happened: I stood there listening to the Chazan repeat the words of the Shemona Esray and say:

וְאֵין אֲנַֽחְנוּ יְכוֹלִים לַעֲלוֹת וְלֵרָאוֹת וּלְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְפָנֶֽיךָ, וְלַעֲשׂוֹת חוֹבוֹתֵֽינוּ בְּבֵית בְּחִירָתֶֽךָ, בַּבַּֽיִת הַגָּדוֹל וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ שֶׁנִּקְרָא שִׁמְךָ עָלָיו

(“And we are unable to come up and present and bow before and bring our required sacrifices, in His great and holy house, which is called by His name”)

Followed by:

וַהֲבִיאֵֽנוּ לְצִיּוֹן עִירְךָ בְּרִנָּה, וְלִירוּשָׁלַֽיִם בֵּית מִקְדָּשְׁךָ בְּשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם. וְשָׁם נַעֲשֶׂה לְפָנֶֽיךָ אֶת קָרְבְּנוֹת חוֹבוֹתֵֽינוּ, תְּמִידִים כְּסִדְרָם וּמוּסָפִים כְּהִלְכָתָם

(“Bring us to Zion in joy and to Jerusalem, the home of your Temple in permanent joy. And there we will bring our required sacrifices…”)

And these words hit me very hard as I stood there looking at Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount without the Bet HaMikdash. My yearning for a Bet HaMikdash at that moment was so strong. And it was clear to me from listening to the throngs of people speak that, at least for that moment, they “got it,”  as well. They captured that moment in their collective head and saw what our true potential is as a nation. We DO have it in our power to make the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash a reality.

And then came the blessing.

And once again, as in the past, I witnessed tens of thousands of my fellow Jews standing silently to be the recipients of His blessings. Thirteen words–these thirteen words, the very formula recorded in the Torah, that has been recited for centuries–were recited for those standing in the presence of the Kohanim. I could literally feel the power of each and every word as the Chazzan’s booming voice recited them to be repeated by the Kohanim.

And then, at the end, thousands of Jews standing shoulder to shoulder cried out: השם הוא האלוקים, Hashem is G-d. What a moment! What a feeling! The roar of the thousands of voices declaring their–our–fealty to Hashem as our King. I have to believe that it brought nachas to Hashem at that moment to hear His children exhibit such unbridled devotion to Him.

Yes, indeed a blessing on our heads….May Hashem continue to bless each and every one of us at all times.

About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.