In the middle of this week’s parsha, Hashem issues a unique commandment to Aharon and his descendants: to bless Am Yisrael through the bestowal of three specific brachot outlined by the Torah. Known as “Birkat Kohanim”, these brachot are bestowed by the Kohanim upon the community during davening each day in Eretz Yisrael, and on Chagim in Chutz la’aretz.
While much has been written about the powerful significance of Birkat Kohanim, a fundamental question arises. Why is the commandment to bless, to bestow brachot upon Am Yisrael, specifically delivered to the Kohanim? Without question, Kohanim certainly possess an elevated status within our community. We honor them with the first Aliyah to the Torah and as the first to lead Birkat Hamazon. When the Beit Hamikdash stood they played the major role in the service of the Bet Hamikdash. What is the connection, however, between these privileges and the phenomenon of blessings? Why, exactly, should the kohanim be granted the power of bestowing brachot upon Am Yisrael? Perhaps it would make more sense for the elders of the community, or the Rabbis of the community, to bestow these brachot, instead?
Perhaps we can make the following suggestion. A number of years ago I heard from mori v’rabi R’ Michael Rosensweig the idea that Kohanim are woven into the communal structure of Klal Yisrael not only for the avodah they perform or for the honored position that is afforded to them. Instead, kohanim primarily serve to project a certain ideal stature and holiness to all of Klal Yisrael. It is not realistic to expect all of Am Yisrael to be careful enough to maintain a high level of holiness by following all of the necessary rigorous restrictions. G-d, therefore established an elite group within Am Yisrael, the Kohanim, and commanded them to keep these extra restrictions. By doing so, they would project a certain ideal of kedusha to all of Bnei Yisrael- and would encourage the entire nation to continue to strive for growth in their own levels of holiness and spirituality.
Based on this idea, perhaps we can suggest that the kohanim are the most appropriate “bestowers of bracha” upon Bnei Yisrael specifically because they are the role models, the standard bearers, for the nation. By projecting an ideal of sanctity to Klal Yisrael and by setting the standard, they obtain the wherewithal and the ability to help Am Yisrael bring the brachot to fruition. There is, therefore, no one more appropriate to bestow these brachot upon the nation than the Kohanim.
Many of us are familiar with the custom of parents blessing their children individually every Friday night before Kiddush. Interestingly enough, the text of the bracha that each parent gives to his child is actually the text of Birkat Kohanim. At first glance, this seems a bit strange- why specifically select the text designed for the use of the Kohanim as they bless the Jewish people in an entirely different context? Would it not have made more sense to tailor a special bracha for this occasion?
Based on the thoughts above, the bracha of Birkat Kohanim might actually be the most appropriate one for a parent to use in blessing a child. Parallel to the relationship that Kohanim are meant to establish with the rest of the nation, we, as parents, are meant to project an ideal to our children of how to act, and to model for them the characteristics towards which they should aspire. We are meant to be role models for our kids, to demonstrate the higher level of sanctity that may be beyond their reach at a young age, but that should always serve as their goal. Through this modeling, we can help our children achieve wonderful heights in avodat Hashem. Similar to the Kohanim, we are uniquely positioned to help our kids bring their own brachot to fruition; and, therefore, it is most appropriate for us to be the ones to bless them each and every Friday night.
In the midst of our Parsha, Hashem teaches us an important lesson regarding brachot in general. By directing the commandment to bless the nation specifically to the Kohanim, G-d demonstrates that it is specifically those individuals who serve as the role models for the people, who project for them a certain ideal, who are also the most appropriate ones to bless them as well. Following that model, we as parents are given the privilege and obligation, to model for our children what it means to serve Hashem and to strive for greatness. We are therefore also given the privilege to bless our children each week, even as we work towards helping them realize these incredible brachot.