Give me a (priestly) blessing!

Insight into: Parsha Naso 

This week (Monday and Tuesday) we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. In synagogues around the world, a special ceremony takes place during the Musaf service, a ceremony that is centuries old, yet unchanged with time.

In the Diaspora, this ceremony is repeated on every major holiday. In Israel, the ceremony is conducted each Shabbat, and in Jerusalem (and some other cities), it occurs every single day. It's called birkat kohanim; the priestly blessing. 

As a young child, I would sense the excitement when I would see all the Kohens and Levites leave the sanctuary. I used to follow them out and watch as the Levites washed the hands of the Kohens with a special cup. The Kohens would then remove their shoes and walk straight up to the bima (pulpit). They would turn to face the congregation, cover themselves with their tallitot (prayer shawls), stretch out their arms, and finally begin blessing the congregation with the famous words, "Yivorechicha …" 

The concept of the priestly blessing can be found in this week's parsha Naso. In Deuteronomy 6:22, G‑d commands Aaron and his sons to bless the children of Israel with the following words: "May G‑d bless you and guard you, May G‑d cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, May G‑d turn His countenance towards you and grant you peace." 

G‑d empowered Aaron, and all his descendants forever, with the ability to bestow His blessing upon the congregation of Israel. 

This privilege to bless comes with interesting conditions. The Kohen must be prepared to give the blessing "Be-ahava" n with love! Jewish law points out that if the Kohen has feelings of hatred toward the congregation, then the blessing is not for him to recite. The blessing is also to be given with joy. For this reason, the priestly blessing is recited in the Diaspora only on holidays, where an atmosphere of joy most certainly prevails. 

Is the privilege of bestowing blessings on others exclusive to those of Kohen descent? Not at all! Many families customarily bless their children with these famous words each Friday night before Kiddush. In fact, in the Torah reading for Shavuout, (Exodus 19:6), we see how G‑d calls the entire Jewish people "a kingdom of priests." 

Perhaps this is why the Lubavitcher Rebbe used to encourage all Jews to grant blessings to their peers at every possible occasion, pointing out that each one of us has the power to bless. 

To give a blessing, you don't have to remove your shoes or wash your hands. To give a blessing, you don't even have to cover yourself with a tallit. The only ingredients necessary are love and joy!