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What is the Priestly Blessing?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. The traditional three-class division of the Jewish population—Kohanim, Levi’im and Yisraelim—is one of the few remnants of Temple-era Jewish society still alive today. G-d designated Aaron, as His Own, automatically inducting Aaron’s sons, sons of sons, sons of sons of sons and sons of sons of sons of sons, and their sons, too, until the end of time. One of the many things the Kohanim were charged with was Positive Mitzvah #26, which required them to channel G-d’s blessing to the Jewish people. With the destruction of the Temple, most Kohanic duties became defunct, but the Priestly Blessing remained, as it was never directly attached to the Temple.

One of the many things the Kohanim were charged with was Positive Mitzvah #26, which required them to channel G-d’s blessing to the Jewish people
B. Today, the Priestly Blessing, called Birkat Kohanim in Hebrew, is administered to the rest of the Jewish people on a regular basis. In the Holy Land (those parts of modern-day Israel that belonged to the Biblical Israel) it is recited every Shabbat, and in some communities, every day. In the Diaspora (Jewish population centers outside the Holy Land), it is recited at every major holiday excluding Chanukah and Purim. Many Sephardic Jews do the Birkat Kohanim every day even outside of Israel.

C. The Priestly Blessing essentially consists of the Chazzan leading community Kohanim in chanting three consecutive verses of the Torah (Numbers 6:24-26) one word at a time, in a special singsong reputedly dating back to the Temple era itself. Here’s the translation of the blessing: "May G-d bless you and keep watch over you. May G-d make His presence enlighten you and grant you grace. May G-d direct His providence toward you and grant you peace."

See also How is the Priestly Blessing administered?

TAGS: kohen, cohen, priest

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Mitzvot » Prayer » About
Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » Priestly Blessing
Mitzvot » Prayer » Priestly Blessing
Holidays » General Information » Priestly Blessing

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kohanim
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Purim
A one-day holiday celebrated in late winter commemorating the miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from a decree of annihilation issued by Persian King Ahasuerus in the year 356 BCE.
Chanukah
An eight day mid-winter holiday marking: 1) The miraculous defeat of the mighty Syrian-Greek armies by the undermanned Maccabis in the year 140 BCE. 2) Upon their victory, the oil in the Menorah, sufficient fuel for one night only, burned for eight days and nights.
Sephardic
(adj.) A Jew whose ancestors stem from Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa or the Arabian countries.
Aaron
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Chazzan
A cantor, or any individual who leads the congregation in prayer.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
Yisraelim
(Pl.) Jews who are not Kohanim or Levi'm (descendants of the Tribe of Levi).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.