by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Shemini 5767This week's sedra speaks of the sacrificial ceremonies that took place on the eighth day of the dedication of the Tabernacle. Together with that joyous occasion was the tragedy that befell Aaron as two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu were consumed by fire as they brought their own sacrifices. In their enthusiasm to come near to G-d, they had crossed a red line - bringing an offering that had not been prescribed by Hashem. They paid with their lives for this.
Before this tragedy occurred, Aaron blessed the People.
Leviticus 9:22, 23:
22: Aaron raised his hands towards the People and he blessed them. [Then] he went down from [the altar after] making the sin offering, the burnt offering and the peace offering.
23: And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting and then they went outside and they blessed the People. And the glory of Hashem appeared to the entire People.
And he blessed them: Rashi: The Priestly Blessing - (Which is) May He bless you; May He shine [upon you]; May He lift up [His face].
Can you figure out why Rashi makes his comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The verse does not tell us which blessing Aaron blessed the People with - it could be a regular blessing or since it was Aaron who was doing the blessing maybe it was Aaron's special Priestly blessing.
So Rashi tells us that it was, in fact, the Priestly blessing.
Now, your Question:
A Question: Between the two possible blessings - an ordinary one or the special Priestly blessing - how does Rashi know it was the latter?
In fact the Ramban differs with Rashi and claims this was an ordinary blessing and not the Priestly one.
First of all the Ramban points out that Parashas Shemini was a long time before Parashas Naso in the Book of Numbers, where Aaron was instructed in the Priestly Blessing. The Ramban does not like using the principle of "There is no earlier or later in the Torah" unless a verse is clearly not in chronologically order. So, in a sense, how would Aaron know what the Priestly blessing was, since it had not yet been commanded? A second point Ramban makes is that it does not say that Moses explicitly commanded Aaron to bless the People. So this looks like a freely offered blessing.
The Ramban compares this blessing of Aaron to Solomon's blessing in the book of Kings I Ch 8:22 where it says "And Solomon stood before the altar...And he spread his hands heavenward...(verse 55) and he stood and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a great voice saying..." So here we see a king (not a priest) blessing the People by spreading his hand towards the heavens. So perhaps also when Aaron raised his hands towards the People, he too was offering a regular blessing.
Looking at our verses can you defend Rashi's view that Aaron blessed the People with the Priestly blessing and not an ordinary blessing?
An Answer: Several points can be made here. First of all, our verse says: "Aaron raised his hands towards the People" By Solomon it says: "He spread his hands heavenwards." What is the difference? By spreading one's hands heavenwards we imply a prayer to G-d in the heavens. By lifting ones hands towards the People it implies blessing the People directly. This is what the priests do; they bless the people, they do not pray to Hashem to bless the people. Secondly, in the very next verse (we quoted it above, verse 9:23) it says explicitly that both Moses and Aaron blessed the people. This would seem to be a separate blessing, as Rashi himself says on verse 23.
This would imply that Aaron's blessing in the verse before was a different blessing - Which blessing? The uniquely Aaronite blessing of the Priests.
So it seems Rashi has a valid point, that Aaron's blessing was not an ordinary blessing (which he does give the people together with Moses in the next verse). It was the unique Priestly blessing.
P.S. Even today some Sefardim have the custom of "spreading their hands" palms upwards towards G-d in prayer. The Priestly blessing, on the other hand, has the hands lifted but with palms down.
A Lesson: A close reading of the text supports Rashi even against the assault of a giant like the Ramban.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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