Priestly Blessings


Moshe Ben-Chaim


I often wondered about the purpose of “Birchat Kohanim”, the priest’s blessings, discussed in Numbers, 6:24-26:  


6:24.  “God shall bless you and watch you.”

6:25.  “God should shine upon you favorably and show you grace.”

6:26.  “God should lift His face towards you and place peace before you.”  


Ibn Ezra explains these blessings as follows:

6:24: God should assist in your monetary needs, 6:25: God should answer your prayers, and 6:26: No evils should befall you.  

We must ask of the necessity for these blessings, as the perfect God does only that which is necessary. This is a perfection of His ways. Therefore, why were these blessings bestowed on the Jews…via the priests? We read in 6:27, “and place My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them”. Clearly, God alone blesses the Jews: it is not in the hands of the priests, any man, priest, or Rabbi. What then is the need for the priests to utter these blessings? God bestows blessings Himself without the priests’ declaration. This last question forces the Torah student to think into the relationship between the Jews and the priests.  

The first step in answering this question is to properly categorize the role of the priests in these blessings. They are acting as ‘benefactors’ of some sort. They are blessing the Jews. Our next question is, “What is the purpose of the priests to be benefactors of the Jews?”  

By analyzing at the dynamics between the Jews and the priests, perhaps their relationship affords some insight. The priests receive gifts from the Jews. The priests also serve in the Temple. The Jews do not. What attitude might be generated from such a relationship where one party receives gifts from the other, and where they also have exclusive rights to Temple service, not granted to Jews? Would the Jew feel justified in his resentment, because he toils for his possessions while the priests receive them from the Jew for free? The Jew might also resent the priests “closer” proximity to God, since they alone serve in the Temple.  

Perhaps this is exactly what the blessings address. They preempt the strife, which might occur based on the Jews’ resentment of priestly gifts, and the exclusion of the Jew from Temple service. I suggest that precisely to rid Jewish society of such resentment, God commanded the priests publicly bless the Jews in these two areas - monetary needs, and concern that God pays attention to Jews, the desired result of prayer. By doing so, any ill feelings will be addressed before they become an issue.

God developed Birchat Kohanim so that Jews regularly heard the priests wishing their monetary success, and that God would respond to their prayers. As the priests show concern that the Jews be blessed by God in those very matters in which the Jew is excluded, the priests create a harmonious state for all Jews, preempting Jewish resentment towards the priests, necessary for the Torah system to operate.  

Since the goal is harmony between Jews of both roles, I believe the final blessing is appropriate, that is, the blessing of peace.