Barbara Cooper

The Priestly Blessings – The Centerpiece of Parshas Naso

We’ve come out of Egypt by Hashem’s Hand. We are headed for the land that was promised to our forefathers. In Parshas Naso, the Levi’im receive instructions for the service of the Mishkan, we learn about purification of the camp in matters including the wayward wife, and the laws of the Nazarite are detailed. More specifically, according to Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz’s rendition of the Sforno, Hashem is preparing us to receive the Priestly Blessings. Six pesukim convey the heart of the parsha. They are commonly referred to as the Priestly Blessings.  These blessings are anything but common.

“So shall you bless the Bnei Yisrael, saying to them…” (Bamidbar 6:23)

In Rabbi David Feinstein’s book “Seasonings of the Torah” he mentions Rashi’s comment on the spelling of the word “saying”—aleph-mem-vav-raish—the full form of the word including the silent vav.  The blessings must be given with a full heart, and by Hashem’s command,—b’ah-ha-vah—with love.  It is not to be just a recitation of words.  In fact, Rabbi Feinstein, who typically draws meaning from the numerical values of the letters that comprise a word, computes the value of the word aleph-mem-vav-raish as 247.  The mouth, being only one of the 248 organs that make up a human being, must be accompanied by all the other organs in order to convey the blessing properly.

May Hashem bless you and safeguard you. (6:24)  According to Rashi, this blessing asks for prosperity (“if there is no flour there is no Torah” Avos 3:21) and also for protection from it being taken away from you.  Rabbi Feinstein points out that the kohanim do not specify the nature of the blessing, only that Hashem should bless the nation.   With this interpretation, the blessings bestowed should be infinite, adapting to the needs of the people as they may change over time.

May Hashem illuminate His countenance for you and be gracious to you. (6:25)  The Sforno sees this as a blessing to enable the people to perceive the wondrous wisdom of the Torah.

May Hashem lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you. (6:26)  In the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, The Holy One, Blessed is He, could find no vessel to hold the Bnei Yisrael’s blessings as well as peace…(Uktzin 3:12)

Rabbi Feinstein concludes that Hashem’s blessings are intended to give the people physical and spiritual prosperity and the peace to be able to enjoy what they have been given.

We recite these blessings at propitious times.  When preparing to study Torah, we follow the blessings of the Torah with selections from both the written and oral Torah.  The first selection is none other than the Priestly Blessings.  On Shabbos night, we lovingly pronounce them over each of our children.  We hear these special words when the Kohanim intone them over the congregation in shul.  We experience this in Israel every day.

And just think…at every duchening we are hearing the voices of Aharon and his sons who said the very same words so many years ago.

About the Author
Once a stay-at-home mother of four children, and now grandmother to 15, Barbara spent 50 years 'children watching.' For a decade, she provided childcare in her home and was also a substitute teaching assistant at Gan Ephraim Preschool in Columbus OH. Over a period of 23 years, she made 19 trips to Israel, finally fulfilling her dream of making aliyah in 2019. She pursues ongoing independent study of Torah.
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