This week’s Parsha has the instruction for the blessing the Kohanim (priests) bestow upon the Jewish People – Birkas Kohanim. (Bamidbar 6:23-27)
Why are the Kohanim the ones chosen to bless the Jewish People?
Let’s see if you can follow this (peace) train of thought:
The Kohanim are the descendants of Aharon, the original Kohain. The Mishna (Pirkei Avos) describes Aharon as one who loves peace and pursues peace (and tells us all to be like this). Thus the ones giving over the blessing are, as their holy ancestor, the paradigm of peace.
Further, the Kohanim are the ultimate public servants. Their entire job is to serve the people. It is worth noting that they are the ones chosen to bless the people; meaning their blessing is a public service. And greater than any other blessing that they can provide for all of us is the blessing of peace.
The Midrash Sifri says that all other blessings – health, sustenance, etc. – are worthless without peace. Their explanation is that peace is the container that holds all other blessings. Much like water for a thirsty person won’t be much use without a cup, so too other blessings without peace.
The word Shalom – peace – has the same root as the word Shaleim – whole / complete. Peace is not only the lack of fighting in the world. It also is being at peace with the world.
The final words of the blessing of the Kohanim are for peace “…and may He establish peace for you.” Even our own prayers (in our siddurim) conclude with a prayer for peace. Peace is everything.
After the conclusion of the Birkas Kohanim is something very powerful. G-d says to the Kohanim “And place My Name on the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” After all that, G-d will bless us! Yes, the Kohanim are the perfect vehicles for the blessing, but it is G-d Who actually blesses us.
When G-d commands the Kohanim regarding all this, He does start off by saying “thus shall you bless the Children of Israel.” So the Kohanim do technically bless us, but with G-d’s blessing, not their own. They bless us by uttering the words G-d instructed. G-d is the Source of all blessings, as we say in every blessing that begins “Baruch”.
Who isn’t hoping for peace and praying for peace with all their hearts? We all want Shalom, and we all need it. If you ask people how we can have peace – inner peace, peace in Israel, peace among Jews, peace in the world… they will probably all have good and thoughtful answers. And if you ask enough people, you will probably get thousands of different answers, how to achieve peace.
But as we are told here in the Birkas Kohanim, we should be blessed by those who emulate peace, and then it is G-d Who will bless us with peace.
May we recognize the Source of all our blessings, and may we merit true peace in Israel and the world.