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Lazer Gurkow

The Kohen

The kohen (priest) plays many central roles in this week’s Torah portion. Primary among them is the priestly blessing. G-d endowed the kohen with the power to confer blessing. It is a potent power. Imagine holding the keys to another’s fortune and happiness. If you choose, you can endow them with good fortune, and it doesn’t cost you a penny. What an amazing gift.

It is a gift that the kohen must revere and never take for granted. This is why the kohen is required to step up and confer blessing. A kohen that refuses to confer blessing has committed a crime. Suppose someone gave you a million dollars to give to others, and you chose to withhold it. You didn’t embezzle it because that would be theft, but you withheld it because you were too lazy or too embarrassed to dispense it.

That would be a crying shame. Putting our ego ahead of another’s needs demonstrates a profound lack of empathy. If we felt the needs of others as we feel our own needs, we would never withhold. We would surge forward with alacrity. The same is true of the kohen. If kohanim contemplate their power to shower blessings their ability to make a difference, they would show up and confer blessings.

A Channel
The truth is that this power does not belong to the kohen. It belongs to G-d and is channeled through the kohen. When kohanim step up to offer blessing, they must clear their minds of all thought and focus solely on being a channel through whom the blessing flows to the congregation. They must abnegate any thoughts of self, self-consciousness, self-interest, or self-centeredness. It is time to think only of G-d and of their fellow. I am not here. G-d is using me as a channel for blessing.

When the kohen thinks of the blessing that way, the blessing is powerful and palpable. It is G-d’s blessing, not the kohen’s. It comes with G-d’s infinite reach, not with the kohen’s finite reach. It is a blessing with no end. A blessing that can’t be contained. A holy Divine blessing.

The kohen determines just how pure and untainted the blessing will be. The less cognizant the kohen is of self while uttering the blessings, the purer the channel and, therefore, the blessing is. The more self-conscious the kohen is, the less pure the channel will be.

Singular Focus
It is this power to be singularly focused on G-d that makes a kohen the proper choice to act as G-d’s channel. In days of old, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the kohen was permitted to enter the inner sanctuary and perform acts of worship, such as placing incense and offerings on the altar and lighting the candelabra.

To enter G-d’s inner sanctuary, the kohen had to be singularly focused on G-d. The kohen, by training and by birth, is able to maintain such singular focus.

The Hebrew word kohen has two contrary meanings. It means servant, and it means master. This tells us that the kohen is not a mere servant. The kohen serves with the authority of his master. The kohen is so subservient to the master that he becomes a channel for the master’s authority. Throughout, the kohen remembers that he is not a master. He is merely a servant that speaks for the master. He is not the source of blessing. He is merely a channel through which the master’s blessings flow.

Singular Letters
This singular focus on the master is further reflected in the Hebrew letters that comprise the word kohen. These letters are kaf, hei, and nun. In Hebrew, letters also double as numbers. The numeric value of kaf is twenty. The numeric value of hei is five. The numeric value of nun is fifty.

There is, however, a little hitch with the letter nun. In the word kohen, the nun is the last letter. This makes it a nun sofit—a final nun. There are five final letters in the Hebrew Aleph Bet. They are chaf sofit, mem sofit, nun sofit, pei sofit, and tzadik sofit. In the numerology of letters, the sofit letters represent a different numeral than the plain letters. So, if nun is fifty, nun sofit is seven hundred.

It works like this: The Hebrew Aleph Bet has nine letters to represent the single digits, one through nine. They are aleph to tet. The Aleph Bet has nine more letters to represent the decade digits, ten through ninety. They are yud to tzadik. Thus, there are nine numerals for the single digits and nine numerals for the decade digits.

The century digits, however, appear to get short shrift. There are four letters, kuf through taf, to represent four century digits—one hundred to four hundred. But there are no letters for the next five century digits. How do we make up the difference?

Enter the five sofit letters in order. chaf sofit represents five hundred, mem sofit represents six hundred, nun sofit represents seven hundred, pei sofit represents eight hundred, and tzadik sofit represents nine hundred. We now have nine letters to represent the century digits.

Accordingly, the three letters that comprise the word kohen represent all three sets of digits. Kaf—twenty—represents the decade digits. Hei—five—represents the single digits. Nun sofit—seven hundred—represents the century digits.

Here we arrive at the code within the name that is focused singularly on G-d. However, to accomplish this, we need to resort to some creative accounting. We need to swap out the nun sofit with the kaf and treat the word kohen as if the kaf were sofit and the nun was not. Considering that in gimatriyah—Hebrew numerology—such shifts are commonplace, this is not as unusual as it seems at first.

If we make this swap, all the letters of kohen represent a variation of five. Kaf sofit is five hundred, hei is five, and nun is fifty. The novelty of the number five is that it can only become a complete number if it doubles itself. It can’t partner with any other number to reach the top of its series.

For example, one can partner with nine to reach ten. Two partners with eight to reach ten. Each number partners with a number different from itself to reach the highest number in its series. Five, fifty, and five hundred can’t reach completion by partnering with others. They can only reach completion by doubling themselves.

The kohen letters have no partner, just as G-d has no partner. This is similar to the Midrashic teaching that G-d told the Shabbat, Sunday has Monday, Tuesday has Wednesday, and Thursday has Friday. Shabbat has no partner, and I have no partner. Thus, we will partner with each other.

G-d says the same to the kohen. All the letters in the Hebrew Aleph Bet can partner with another letter to reach completion. The letters of kohen have no partner. You have no partner, and I have no partner, let’s focus on each other and become partners. Together we will confer blessing on the Jewish nation.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org