Our Torah portion for this week is the source of the so-called “Birkat Kohanim” – the priestly blessing:
“May God bless you and keep you,
may God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you,
may God lift up God’s face to you and give you peace.”
It’s a beautiful blessing that God gave to the priests that we, in turn, give to one another. While the first part of it speaks of blessing and being protected, the second part has this idea of God’s face shining and then being gracious to us. The final part initiates this intimate nearness with God, creating a real sense of peace and belonging. In this way, we might see that the blessing itself elevates and gets bigger and bigger so that ultimately, the final blessing is firstly for God to see us, and secondly for us to see God.
As a rabbi, I have the opportunity to offer the Birkat Kohanim in many contexts. For example, I give this blessing to our B’nei Mitzvah, during a wedding, and I share this blessing with various other people who come up to the bimah marking moments of transition in their lives. And of course, this blessing is part of our Kiddush when we bless the children on Erev Shabbat.
The divine power of this blessing is revealed by the Torah in the verse that follows directly after. There it says, “and they shall put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.” In this way, when we give this blessing, not only do we share in this history stretching back to Aaron and his sons, and firmly associate ourselves with God, as God places God’s name upon the people of Israel, but also receive a blessing in return for doing so.
It is wonderful to receive a blessing, but it is even more powerful to be able to give and share that blessing with others. God is there to protect us and to grant peace, but the verses in our parashah also remind us to put God’s name upon the people of Israel in order to receive God’s blessing in return.
May we all have many opportunities to share our blessings with one another.
Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Danny Burkeman)