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Haftorah - Judges 13:2-25
During the three Pilgrimage festivals (Pesach, Shavu'ot and Sukkot) as well as on the High Holidays the Kohanim (the priests) line up at the front of the synagogue and recite the three-fold priestly blessing during the Mussaf service. Facing the people, with their hands lifted and positioned precisely, the Kohanim perform the special Mitzvah of blessing the congregation. The three-fold blessing is also recited individually every morning (during Birchat HaShachar) and each evening (during the morning blessings and before going to sleep).
The blessings origin is found in this week's Parsha.
"And the Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and to his sons saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel; say to them, 'May the Hashem bless you and guard you. May Hashem make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May Hashem turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.' And they shall put My name upon the children of Israel and I will bless them."
This blessing is known as "Birkat Kohanim" (the priestly blessing) and is also called "Bracha Hamshuleshet" (the three-fold blessing) because it contains three parts.
1. May the Hashem bless you and guard you - is a blessing of prosperity and life.
Blessings are actually prayers. When we bless someone, in effect we are actually praying on their behalf. For instance, just reciting the common greeting of "Mazel Tov" is in effect a blessing that one's negative destiny should be overturned for goodness. Most people view "Mazel Tov" as an exclamation of joy, or that the recipient should simply have "good luck." But contrary to the popular mis-translation, Mazel does not suggest luck, it refers to an astrological constellation. Hence, may your Mazel (destiny) be blessed with goodness.
Wishing someone "Mazel Tov" is more than just an expression of good tidings, blessings are verbal utterances that can positively effect one's destiny. It is not enough for one to "feel" Mazel Tov in one's heart, the articulation of words is also necessary, and when directed properly, these words can emerge and hopefully be accepted. Some of our commentators suggest that being "created in the image of G-d" actually means having the power of speak, as Hashem demonstrated when He created the world.
When my wife Kathy A"H (abbreviation for "may peace be upon her) was first diagnosed with cancer and was told that she had only 6 months to live, we traveled to Toronto to meet with a specialist for a second opinion. Arriving in Toronto early, we stopped for lunch at a Kosher restaurant. There we met an elderly gentleman who turned out to be an old Rebbi of mine from my teen years, a real character. Rabbi Rivlin was a bit of a legend and I introduced him to my wife. Kathy was delighted to meet the famous Rabbi Rivlin and asked him to kindly bless her with health and long life. Rabbi Rivlin then told us that he was incapable of effectively blessing her, for all blessings come only from Hashem as it says in the prayer book:
"May He who blessed our ancestors, also bless us." But if one blesses Hashem, then He reciprocates with a blessings. The Rabbi then proceeded with a long praise of Hashem and His compassion and ended with the words, "may Hashem also provide a blessing of health to ..." Needless to say, she lived for more than three and a half years and each day blessed Hashem for His gifts of life.
I believe that this is precisely the meaning behind the priestly blessings. My wife Kathy A"H was blessed with prosperity (she was satisfied with her portion) and years beyond her Mazel (her destiny), she was blessed with spiritual grace, and she perceived that Hashem's face was constantly shining in her direction, quietly soothing her under the canopy of His grace.
T'hay Nishmatah Baruch - May her soul be blessed.
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Shema Yisrael Torah Network