The priests, descendants of Aharon the kohein, were assigned with the mitzvah of birchas kohanim, the Priestly Blessings recited daily in the Temple as part of the Sacrificial Order. Facing the people with their hands raised, the priests would lovingly confer this fifteen-word formula onto their fellow members of the Jewish people (Leviticus 9:22; Numbers 6:22-27).
The priests were exclusively selected for this mitzvah. They came, in the words of the benediction, “with the holiness invested with Aharon Who has commanded us to bless His people Israel with love”.
But why was it the kohein, the one involved in the Temple service, who was selected to become the conduit for divine benevolence to descend to the world through these blessings? Why him?
Every blessing carries within it the essential recognition that G-d, Creator of our universe which is founded upon His altruistic kindness (Psalms 89:3), is the Source of all blessing. And how it is from Him wherewith emanates all forms of goodness – to the extent, that “any blessing that does not mention the [Divine] Name is not considered a blessing” (Berachos 40b).
In this sense, the concept of blessing is, essentially, not of this world. Blessing, that is an outflow of kindness which denotes the breaking down of borders, represents a contradiction to the limitations of our tightly structured physical world that functions within the framework and constraints of nature. Rather, it belongs to the spiritual realm (See Maharal, Nesiv HaTorah Ch.11)
So that the divine influence of blessing descends downwards to enter and pervade our world of limitations, it requires someone spiritually attuned to draw down from this higher source into our world.
Herein the kohein enters the picture.
The kohein’s role, the one “to connect and bring heaven down to earth” that is best exemplified in his daily service in the Beis HaMikdash (literally the “House of holiness”), foments him as the most suitable channel for heavenly influence to descend all the way down into this world. He is the one most strongly affiliated with holiness – that spiritualizes the physical world. Birchas kohanim is where the blessings of protection, grace, success and peace are filtered through the kohanim. With his outstretched and raised hands the kohein symbolically “accepts” the abundant goodness and divine blessings from on high to pour forth onto His creations.
The divine love necessitates the identical sentiments within the vehicle of His choice. The chosen ambassadors of G-d (Talmud, Yoma 19a), the kohein was himself the personification of loving-kindness. Not only would he come “…to bless his nation Yisrael with love”, the kohein descended from Aharon, himself characterized as “man of kindness” (Deuteronomy 33:8). His love of his brethren was personified in his peacemaking, causing love and harmony to permeate the Jewish people.
The priestly blessings, descending through the kohein exemplar of kindness, were an expression of G-d’s outstanding love bestowed onto Israel: how His Holy Name is placed upon His holy nation (Numbers 6:27) – as they readily acknowledged Him as the Source for all blessing.
And because it descends via the holy medium of the kohein, every Jew is filled with the greatest gratitude for being the lucky recipients of G-d’s love and benevolence. This propels every Jew to direct the blessings to become a vehicle of holiness energizing his existence, and filling him with vibrancy and vitality to fulfill his potential. Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.