In order for Hashem’s blessing of love to be bestowed upon the Jewish people, there must be feelings of love between the kohanim and the congregation. The Zohar relates the story of a kohen who died because he did not recite Birkas Kohanim with good feelings (Naso 147a). In order to prevent such mishaps, right before reciting the blessings the kohanim make the bracha, “Who commanded the descendants of Aharon to bless His nation of Israel with love” (Mishna Berura 128,37).
Even though love is a prerequisite for Birkas Kohanim, the feelings of hatred must be quite intense in order to override the Torah mitzva of Birkas Kohanim. There was once a kohen who refused to accept the ruling of a beis din, and the community banned him from being called up first to the Torah. Nonetheless, the Gedolim of the time, while upholding this ban, ruled that he should still bless the congregation with Birkas Kohanim (Responsa Mahari Asad, Orach Chaim 49).
The poskim add that it is not sufficient that the relationship between the kohen and the congregation be hate-free. While making this blessing, the kohen is supposed to feel true love for the Jewish people, and they are supposed to feel love for him in return. Listening to the bracha of “Who commanded the descendants of Aharon to bless the Jewish people with love” should instill this feeling into our hearts (Kaf HaChaim 128,75).
Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org