Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Naso
To dedicate this lesson

Connecting Between the People and Hashem


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Sivan 8 5775
based on Siach Shaul, p. 366-8

The beginning of our parasha, Naso, is linked to the end of the previous one, which is dedicated to counting. Here, the Levi’im are counted by family, and the specific tasks of each are recorded. The end of the parasha details the events of the inauguration of the Mishkan and the mizbeach (altar). In the midst, there are also discussions of matters that have to do with the Mishkan and with the kohanim who served there.
Out of these, let us concentrate on the mitzva of Birkat Kohanim. The p’sukim (Bamidbar 6:24-26) that comprise Birkat Kohanim are introduced with "So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael; say to them …" (ibid. 23), and is followed by "And they shall place My name on Bnei Yisrael, and I will bless them" (ibid. 27).
The Rambam (Tefilla 15:7) asks and answers the obvious question: "Do not wonder: How can the blessing of a simple one (i.e., a mere human being) help? For the receipt of the blessing is not dependent on the kohanim but on Hashem, as the pasuk says: ‘And they shall place My name on Bnei Yisrael, and I will bless them.’" The kohanim perform the mitzva in which they were commanded, and Hashem, in His mercy, blesses Israel as He desires."
Yet the Rambam’s explanation begs explanation. If it all depends on Hashem and His desire, why were the kohanim commanded to bless? Can’t Hashem do it without their intercession? What do the mere humans add?
The key is understanding what is meant by "placing Hashem’s name" on Bnei Yisrael, i.e., to have it called on them. Hashem’s kindness fills and flows throughout the world. However, something needs to be able to absorb that flow, and only with preparation for it can one be successful. The preparation is accomplished through the calling of Hashem’s name on the people.
Malachi, the last of the prophets says: "For the lips of the kohenguard knowledge, and Torah they shall seek from his mouth, for he is an angel of Hashem, Lord of Hosts" (2:7). The kohen’s personality has to be very pure – like an angel. Yet he, who raised himself in levels of sanctity through his work in the Beit Hamikdash, is very different from an angel. He must not sever his contacts with simple people. He must use his lips to preserve wisdom by teaching it to the nation. People are to be drawn to him and he is to provide inspiration. There is great consequence to the kohen’s spiritual level. "If he is like an angel, they shall seek Torah from his mouth, and if not, not" (Moed Katan 17a). It is not only important what is taught but also who teaches it.
This is best represented with Birkat Kohanim, which is done with out-stretched hands. The one with "clean hands and a pure heart" (see Tehillim 24:4) is the one who stands before the people on the holy mountain and blesses the people with love. He elevates the people above the life of mundanity and fills them with holy feelings for the divine, which make them fit to be a "nation of kohanim." That is putting the name of Hashem upon the people and preparing them to receive the divine blessing, at which point the blessing comes itself. The blessing covers children and property, the city and the field, grace and a glowing face (different elements of the actual berachot). Above all, there is a blessing of peace, which holds together all the blessings.
"They shall place My name on Bnei Yisrael, and I will bless them."

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