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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Naso

WITH OPEN ARMS

30
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One of the most ancient, & certainly one of the most beautiful prayers in all the Jewish liturgy is the Birkat Kohanim, the "Y'varech'cha," which highlights our Sedra. (This prayer/blessing is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls). In just 15 words, Hashem - via the Kohanim - promises us knowledge, wealth, security, Peace & an eternal relationship with Him.

What more could anyone ask for?

Several technical details of the way the Kohanim deliver this Bracha add an even deeper message:

* The Kohanim must face the people as they deliver the blessing, though this means that they have to turn their backs on the Aron & the Sefer Torah. This teaches us that if you want to really communicate with another person, if you want to relate to them in a dignified manner, then you must actually face them & focus on them. (NOT via twitter, Instagram or cell phone!)

* When delivering the Bracha, the Kohen lifts his arms towards the people, opening his hands & fingers. This symbolizes that he (and of course Hashem) embrace the nation with open arms, & their hands are open to give to all. The open-hand gesture - like the handshake or wave which shows we carry no weapon & harbor no malice - symbolizes openness & friendship - as opposed to the clenched fist, which is a sign of selfishness & enmity.

* This Mitzva stands alone as having a Bracha within a Bracha which commands the Kohanim to pronounce their blessing "with love." In fact, the very last word of the bracha is "ahava." This teaches us that a blessing is no blessing unless it is given in love, & that a Mitzva is not a Mitzva unless it is performed with love.

The word Ahava derives from the word "hav," to give, & has the numerical value of 13, the same as "Echad" - one. This teaches us that, in essence, loving is giving, & that the end result of showing love is that we will establish a oneness, a commonality, a unity with those to whom we show love. And we will receive in even greater measure than we give, for that is Hashem’s way.

The Kohanim were the former leaders of our people. The lessons of the Birkat Kohanim should not be lost on any person who today aspires to lead Am Yisrael: Focus on others, welcome them with open arms, & let all your actions generate from a genuine love of your fellow Jew.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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