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9 Sivan 5784 - June 15, 2024

Parshat Nasso

Rabbi's Reflections

-Birkat Kohanim and the Source of All Blessing-

In Parshat Nasso, Aharon is commanded to bless the Jewish people, as it says, “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you. May the Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace” (Bamidbar 6:24-26).  The verse ends with the words, “Thus they shall link My Name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Ibid., 27). What does, “And I (God) will bless them” mean? According to one opinion of Rashi, these words mean that the blessing will be “to Israel, and I shall agree with the Kohanim.” That is, “I will fulfill their blessings.” Thus, if the Kohanim do their job in blessing the people, then God will do His job in making sure those blessings come to pass. However, the bigger question is “Why does God even need the Kohanim to bless the people at all?” After all, if God is the One Who is ultimately giving and fulfilling the blessing, why does He need the Kohanim in the first place? What’s more, what does, “They shall link My Name with the people of Israel” mean? 

According to the Rashbam, this teaches us that the Kohanim “shall not bless [the people] in the manner people bless one another, wishing that certain individuals will experience blessings of a certain kind. Instead, the Kohanim are to make it plain that they pray to God to extend His blessings to the people whom the Kohanim face at the time.” In other words, the blessing of the Kohanim should serve as a prayer, instructing the people that it is God Who will answer that prayer and bless them. Accordingly, God is commanding the Kohanim to teach the people a deep lesson in faith – that no human authority or earthly power has the ability to bless – not even the Kohanim, not even the Kohen Gadol! Only God can bring about blessings, because God is the Source of all blessings. 

It is interesting to note that every blessing we recite begins with the words, “Blessed are You, Lord our God…” What are we saying when we recite these familiar words? Do we really think that we are blessing God? The Sefer HaChinuch explains that these words do not signify a blessing which we give to God, after all, God does not need our blessings! Rather, they signify our understanding that God is the Source of all blessings, the “Mekor HaBracha,” that God is “Blessing” itself. As the Chinuch writes, “He is the Master over everything and over all blessing; He renews them and creates them and emanates great abundance from them when His good will is present there” (Mitzvah 430:2). Thus, when the Kohanim bless the people with the Name of God, they are teaching them about the inextricably sacred link between blessings and God – that God is the Source of all blessing, and with that knowledge, the people will understand that “I (God) will bless them.” 

We all want blessings in our lives. However, we sometimes view blessings as being dependent on others, on their good will, on their ability or desire. This Shabbat, let us learn the lesson of the Birkat Kohanim – that we need to understand that any and all blessings ultimately come from God – not another person, not fate, circumstance or our own desires. May we live our lives according to this great lesson in faith, and while we continue to work with one another to create the best community we can, while we depend on one another to create the best shul we can, let us also continue to seek blessings from God and God alone, as the Source of all blessings, Who will respond to our efforts with goodness, compassion, success, and strength. 

Shabbat Shalom!

- Rabbi Dan

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