Birkas Kohanim is a close encounter with Hashem. Our Sages tell us that Hashem participates in the blessing, and that His Presence rests on the hands of the kohen (Yerushalmi Sota 7,2). The kedusha of the kohen’s hands at the time of the blessing is so great that staring at them could weaken one’s vision (Rashi Chagiga 16a).
Our Sages instituted special safeguards to ensure that the congregation will not be distracted during these auspicious moments. Someone who has visible physical deformities should not participate in Birkas Kohanim, for the congregants might be drawn to look at his hands. In addition to causing a person to lose his eyesight, the deformities could distract the congregation’s attention from the blessing of the kohanim (Mishna Berura 128,109).
A painter, whose hands are generally decorated with dabs and smears of interesting colors, moves to a city where kohanim keep their hands outside their talleisim while reciting Birkas Kohanim. Since his colored hands could distract the members of the congregation he should not recite Birkas Kohanim. However, if the local custom is to cover one’s hands with a tallis during the bracha, or if everyone is already used to his multi-colored hands, the painter may recite Birkas Kohanim (Shulchan Aruch 128,32).
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org