Festival Prayers: Birchat Kohanim II
“So shall you bless the Children of Israel.” According to the plain meaning of the text the words mean: “in this style you are to pronounce the blessing.” We have the same expression “Koh,” being used in Numbers 8:7 where the Torah describes the procedure for purifying the Levites.
A midrashic approach based on Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso #9: the words, “So shall you bless,” meaning that God gave those words to the Kohanim as a gift so that they would have the power to bless Israel. Seeing that in addition to this gift God would assign them another 24 gifts from the Children of Israel, with this gift they would dispose of 25 gifts corresponding to the numerical value in the word, “Koh.”
In Sotah we are taught additionally that the word contains a number of restrictions with in it: the language in which they are to bestow the blessing must be Hebrew. It requires further that the blessing be administered while they are standing. They are to raise their hands while performing the blessing. They are to face the recipients of the blessing. The blessing must be pronounced loudly and, in the Temple, they were to pronounce the Ineffable Name while intoning the blessing. Some of these rules are based on Leviticus 9:22, “Aaron raised his hands and blessed the people.” The words, “they are to place My Name,” is the source of the Ineffable Name being invoked. The use of the expression, “My Name,” in our verse and the same expression in Deuteronomy 12:5, “to place My Name,” serve as the basis for this law. Just as in Deuteronomy, the Ineffable Name was to be invoked in the Temple, the subject matter of the verse, so here too the blessing with the Ineffable Name is used only in the Temple.
A Kabbalistic approach: The word, “Koh,” represents the 10th attribute, the one always employed by the prophets when they convey messages they have received from God to deliver to the Jewish people. The extra letter “H” is reminiscent of the last letter in the Tetragram, a letter we have several times described as the attribute of Justice in its tempered form. The Kohanim when blessing the people and directing God’s largesse in their direction are also to have in mind this same letter which is used to guide the fate of the Jewish people containing an element of the attribute of Chesed within it.
“Saying to them,” there is an extra letter “Vav,” which stretches the word, makes it longer, to suggest to the Kohanim that they must not relate to the duty to bless the people as a burden imposed upon them by God, something they want to be done with as soon as possible, in a hurry. On the contrary, they should bless the people with all the concentration they are capable of.
Another reason for the addition of this letter is that the numerical value of the word including the digit 14 the word itself, is 248. The blessing is absorbed by all 248 limbs and organs of a person. If only one organ were left out this could be the heart upon which all other organs are so vitally dependent.
The mystical element in the number is that it corresponds to the Divine Presence which rests on the palms of the Kohanim hidden there as if it were the heart of the heavens reciting the blessing. Both celestial and terrestrial forces receive their blessings from the Part of the Heaven.
When the Kohen extends his 10 fingers toward heaven, he signals to God that he desires to sanctify himself with all the sanctities embodied in the 10 Emanations, asking for the abundance of God’s goodness to be channeled toward His creatures when Earth by means of the conduits God has available for that purpose. The word, “Et,” in the sequence includes the Angels in this direction. The words, “Say to them,” is sort of a repetition to make certain all the disembodied Angels both above and below certain layers of the heavens are included.
Another lesson to be derived from the extra letter in the word is that the Chazzan is to call upon the Kohanim to intoned the blessing by pronouncing the word, “Kohanim,” and to pronounce each word separately before the Kohanim repeat it in chorus.
The very fact that the law deems it necessary to brief the Kohanim word for word reflects that this is the practice in the Celestial regions where the angels who act as Kohanim in the Celestial Sanctuary are following the same routine. This is the mystical dimension of the Talmudic teaching that every Kohen performing the commandment of blessing the people is himself the subject of a blessing. The Talmud means that the Kohen ministering on earth will in turn become the recipient of blessings from the Source, the essence of Mercy in the heavenly regions; this is the meaning of what God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you.” In other words, the Kohanim down here are patterning themselves after known role models in the celestial regions. (Rabbeinu Bachya; Numbers 6:23)