What is the power of a blessing? Can I really improve the lives of the people I love by blessing them?
Though prayer and blessings are critically important to both Judaism and Christianity, there are surprisingly few formal prayers recorded in the Bible. In this week’s Torah portion, however, we are introduced to some of the most powerful words of blessing ever uttered in all of human history: the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing:
May the LORD bless you and guard you,
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you,
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the priests recited this blessing every day while standing on a special platform overlooking the people who came to the Temple to pray. In our time, while we await the rebuilding of the Third Temple, the Priestly Blessing has been incorporated into the Jewish prayer service. In Israel, the priests bless the congregation with these words every morning, while outside of Israel it is performed only a few times a year on special holidays.
Although this blessing is traditionally recited by the Kohanim, the Jewish priests, it is not the priests but rather God Himself Who is the source of the blessing. The Priestly Blessing is also known as Nesi’at Kapayim, the “lifting of the hands,” because the priests lift up their hands while blessing the people. With their palms outstretched, the priests separate each hand into three sections in the manner made famous in the television series, Star Trek, as the Vulcan greeting. By doing so, the priests demonstrate that God is the true source of the blessing and that the blessing is merely “flowing through” the priests on its way to the nation.
Herein lies the power of the Priestly Blessing, and ultimately the power of all blessings: the recognition that God, and God alone, is the only true source of blessing. By humbly demonstrating that they are merely vehicles of God’s blessing, the Kohanim show God that both they and the people of Israel are God’s servants and are worthy of receiving God’s blessing!
Every Friday night, as Jewish families prepare to begin the Sabbath meal, parents traditionally bless each of their children and grandchildren with the Priestly Blessing. In doing so, they teach their children – and remind themselves – that the foundation of authentic blessing is recognizing that true blessing begins with God and flows through mankind; that we are God’s humble vehicles for bringing His blessing to the world.
This is a blessing that can truly change our lives – and the lives of our children and grandchildren!