by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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This week's sedra contains the Priestly blessing, which was said daily in the Temple. Today Jews throughout the world hear it said by the Kohanim just on Holy Days. While in Eretz Yisroel, the Kohanim say it daily. Let us look at Rashi's puzzling comment on it.
And Aaron raised his hand towards the People and blessed them and then he went down from making the sin-offering, the whole-offering and the peace-offering.
'yevorachem. birkas kohanim, yevarechicha, ya'ir, yisa
And he blessed them: Rashi: The Priestly blessing. 'May [Hashem] bless you', 'may [Hashem] shine, 'may [Hashem] raise up'.
Some fundamental questions can be asked here.
A Question: How does Rashi know that this blessing is the Priestly blessing?
The Priestly blessing is commanded in Numbers 6:23ff. There it says:
"Speak unto Aaron and his sons, saying: So shall you shall bless the Children of Israel, saying to them:
'May Hashem bless you and guard you.
With this blessing in mind, can you see how Rashi concluded that Aaron's blessing here was the same Priestly blessing?
This is not easy.
HOW DOES RASHI KNOW?
An Answer: The Priestly blessing has a unique feature which is rarely noticed: The people are blessed directly in the second person, as the priest faces them and speaks to them face to face. He says " May Hashem bless you" "and grace you," and "and give you peace." This accords with our verse which says: "And Aaron raised his hands toward the people." This indicates clearly that he faced the people and blessed them directly, indicating the unique characteristic of the Priestly blessing.
In order to see the uniqueness of such a frontal blessing, let us compare it with Solomon's blessing to the people when the first Temple was dedicated. Our verse also refers to a holy dedication, i.e. the special ceremonies on the day when the Tabernacle was dedicated.
"He (Solomon) stood and blessed the entire congregation of Israel in a loud voice saying: 'Blessed is Hashem Who has granted rest to His people Israel." ( I Kings 8:55).
Notice that this is not a blessing to the people, it is a blessing (thanksgiving) to Hashem and only indirectly a blessing for the people. Aaron's Priestly blessing, on the other hand, is one directed to the people themselves.
Why does Rashi give us the first words of the blessing? We certainly know what the Priestly blessing is.
An Answer: These words, particularly the first- יברכך - is a clue to the fact that the blessing is a direct one, since in each of the three phrases the people are addressed directly in the second person.
A DEEPER LOOK
Some commentaries on Rashi have suggested that Rashi knew this was the Priestly blessing because it says here "And Aaron raised his hands." And raising the hands is indicative of the Priestly blessing. But this answer is problematic. Can you see why ?
Hint: Look again at the Priestly blessing above.
An Answer: The section regarding the Priestly blessing says nothing about the raising of the hands. The law of the priest raising his hands in blessing is derived from our verse! Because Aaron raised his hands here and blessed the people, we know that the priest must raise his hands when he blesses the people.
AND YET ANOTHER QUESTION
A Question: The Priestly blessing was commanded to Aaron later on in the book of Numbers. How could Aaron have used it now, before he was commanded concerning it?
Hint: Look closely at that section in Numbers and the context in which it occurs.
The verse immediately following the Priestly blessing (Numbers 7:1) says "And it was on the day that Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle" etc. Rashi on that verse tells us that this took place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. We know that the events in our parasha also took place on that same Rosh Chodesh Nisan, for Rashi tells us this on the first verse in this sedra (Leviticus 9:1). So both events took place at the same time. It would thus seem that, in fact, Aaron was given the instructions about the Priestly blessings at the time of the dedication of the Tabernacle. So he already knew these blessings by the time he blessed the people in our verse.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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