The Power of Brachos

Rabbi Ari Ginsberg

Parshas Shemini begins with an account of the final day of the consecration of the Mishkan. The Torah describes the various sacrifices that were offered by Aharon which culminated in Hashem’s presence being manifest in the Mishkan. Just prior to the appearance of the shechina, there is an enigmatic verse indicating that Aharon gave a blessing to klal yisroel. “Aharon lifted his arms toward the people and blessed them, and he came down (from the mizbeach) following the sin offering, burnt offering, and peace offering” (Vayikra 9:22). The Torah mysteriously mentions this blessing without indicating its contents, nor does it record the reason for the blessing Therefore, understanding the nature of this blessing on a deeper level is crucial to fully appreciating the necessity of this verse in this week’s parsha.

The Ramban on the aforementioned verse notes the puzzling nature of this pasuk. He first quotes Rashi, and then offers his own opinion on the idea of this blessing. He compares Aharon’s blessing to the blessing of Shlomo upon the completion of the building of the Bais Hamikdash. “Shlomo stood before the mizbeach of Hashem, and he outstretched his hands toward the heaven” (Melachim Aleph 8:22). “He stood up, and blessed all of the people in a grand voice” (Melachim Aleph 8:55). Similarly, the Ramban maintains that Aharon outstretched his hands towards the heavens, and he addressed the nation with a blessing. The Torah specifically refers to this blessing in an ambiguous manner to demonstrate that it was a personal and unscripted expression. However, even with the Ramban’s commentary, the purpose of this bracha is still unclear. 

Another interesting idea to ponder is why it is necessary to outstretch one’s hands when blessing the nation? The Torah depicts an instance where Moshe Rabeinu stretches out his arms toward Hashem. At the end of Parshas Beshalach, Moshe Rabeinu is instructed to lift up his arms toward the heavens in order to ensure a victory in the battle against Amalek. Rashi explains (Shemos 17:12) that Moshe’s hands were outstretched to Hashem in proper prayer. Tefilah is typically a silent experience where one should be still with his hands clasped at his heart (Shuchan Aruch OH 95). Why was it therefore necessary for Moshe Rabeinu to open his arms toward Hashem? Perhaps the answer lies in the public nature of this expression. A leader must be cognizant of the potentially dangerous distortions that may arise as a result of their position. Very often, the masses attach godly and supernatural qualities to their leaders, and thus enter an initial path of idol worship. There are numerous examples throughout history where this has occurred, the most obvious of which is the origin of Christianity. Therefore, Moshe, Aharon, and Shlomo, needed to clearly illustrate through physical expression that they themselves did not possess any real power[1] . However, Moshe had to demonstrate clearly that Hashem would be the cause of their victory, and not himself. Both Aharon and Shlomo had to demonstrate that Hashem is the only source of bracha, and no human being has any innate power to bless. Thus it was critical for all these leaders to present themselves with outstretched arms to the heavens in order to indicate that Hashem is the source of everything.

This idea that outstretching one’s hands to the Heavens signifies that God is the source of victory and blessing can give insight into Aharon’s bracha. Aharon recognized the elevation of klal yisroel through the experience of building the mishkan. They had willingly dedicated the mishkan’ materials, and were instrumental in constructing this holy place. He saw the perfection of klal yisroel, their knowledge of and belief in God, as an appropriate inspiration for requesting the bestowment of bracha. Therefore, Aharon seized an opportunity to daven on behalf of klal yisroel. We see this with Shlomo HaMelech, as well, where he utilized the finishing of the Bais Hamikdash and the resulting effect on bnei yisroel as an opportunity to beseech Hashem to bless klal yisroel.

There are several key concepts and important lessons that emerge from analyzing Aharon’s requesting Hashem to bless klal yisroel. The idea of stretching one’s arms out toward the heaven is integral to preventing disastrous falsity in bnei yisroel’a perception of their leaders. The concept that Hashem is all powerful and the only true cause of bracha must be made glaringly obvious to the people; this is done through the visual cue of actually reaching toward Hashem. Once klal yisroel understands this idea the leader can then utilize special situations to pray on their behalf. Aharon’s bracha illustrates his awareness of the appropriateness of tefilah at the completion of the mishkan. He was able to publicly display his prayer in a manner that focused on Hashem’s ultimate control of the world.  

[1]  Mishna, Rosh Hashanna 3:6