The Priestly Blessing and its Meaning This Week

Numbers 6

The priestly blessing ceremony at the Western Wall, Passover 2020 (Copyright: GPO/Haim Zach)

With Israel under attack from over 4,000 Hamas rockets, this week’s Torah portion contains the Priestly Blessing that contains the perfect spiritual lessons to guide us.  

The blessing contains three parts. It begins with a blessing for prosperity and safety, continues with a blessing for God’s grace, and climaxes with a blessing of peace:

Speak to Aharon and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:

“Hashem bless you and protect you! Hashem deal kindly and graciously with you! Hashem bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6:23-26


Peace is considered the ultimate blessing, as the Sages taught, “God found no vessel to contain His blessings, other than peace.”   We pray for peace throughout all of our prayers, and we end the amida prayer three times a day with the following supplication:

“He who makes peace in High Places, He will make peace for us and for all Israel and let us say, Amen”

What is the peace in High Places referred to in this prayer?  The medieval commentator Rashi comments (Genesis 1:8) that the Hebrew word for heaven, shamayim (שמים), is made up of the words aish (אש), fire, and mayim (מים), water.  When creating the world, God combined these two opposing forces to create the heavens.  Thus, He created peace in High Places, causing two ordinarily opposing forces to work together harmoniously for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will. This overruling of the laws of nature serves as a powerful lesson for man, reminding us that the common goal of serving God should override all differences between people and unite us in peace.

In Israel, the prayer for peace takes on even greater meaning as we are surrounded on all sides by enemies who want to destroy us.  While our enemies teach hatred and intolerance, we try to instill messages of peace and love, particularly fitting for the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, whose very name has the word shalom (שלום), peace, embedded in it.  These prayers take on even more meaning today, as enemy rockets continue to rain down on the innocent men, women and children of Israel. We beseech God that just as fire and water are able to work peacefully together in heaven, one day soon we will be able to live in peace with our neighbors.

The State of Israel has taken the quest for peace very seriously. It has even returned land captured in a defensive war, and offered to return more, in exchange for peace with its neighbors. We hope and pray that our neighbors will begin to put down their weapons and seek peace as well.

In Israel, the Priestly Blessing is recited publicly each day by individuals possessing a family tradition that they are among the descendants of Aaron.  We pray every day for its total fulfillment, when the Jewish people will live peacefully in the Land of Israel, at peace with our enemies and with each other.

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