Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on May 20, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

So (koh) shall you bless the Bnei Yisrael, saying to them…[2]

A midrash[3] links the “so”/koh of our pasuk with the same word in the prelude to the Covenant Between the Parts: “Count the stars, if you are able to count them…So/koh shall be your offspring!”[4] The relationship, says the midrash, is causal. It was this “koh shall be your offspring” that merited the Priestly Blessing for the Bnei Yisrael. We should examine why.

The number of letters in the first line of the Shema is well-known. It is 25, which happens to be the numerical value of koh! The Shema, of course, is the national formula for proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem. When Adam sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he caused immense damage to the message of the 25 letters of the Shema. Thus, Hashem first called out to Adam with the word, “Ayekoh,”[5] which lends itself to be read, “Ayei koh,” – where are the 25 letters of the Shema with which I charged you to take to history and to the world? What have you done with them?

Now, when Hashem promised Avraham a remarkable increase of his future descendants, He employed the word koh, thus linking it to the message of the Shema. This proclamation of Oneness, somewhat ironically, has two distinct layers. It speaks, of course, of the Oneness of G-d. It speaks as well of another oneness – that of the Jewish people. The bonds that hold our fractious people together owe to our common mission, our being joined together in the mega-neshamah of Knesses Yisrael. This oneness, like that of Hashem Himself, can be more apparent, or remain concealed. It really boils down to one point. Our oneness is visible only when peace and harmony reign among the people.

This gives new meaning to the familiar statement of Chazal[6] that no vessel holds brachah for Yisrael like peace does. We usually understand this to mean that no blessing can be appreciated while armies march. Blessings only count during peacetime. We can now detect a different meaning: A prerequisite for a national blessing is that Jews be able to live in peace and tranquility with each other. Thus, when Avraham was given a brachah for his progeny, it presupposed that those descendants would be able to live in peace and brotherhood with their fellow Jews. Without that, the brachah would have no place to vest. Conveying that peace throughout the generations would be the function of the Priestly Blessing. In other words, the blessing to Avraham necessitated that Birkas Kohanim would create the internal peace that would make room for the blessing to Avraham in future times.

This is alluded to as well in the afterword to the Priestly Blessing: “Let them place My Name upon the Bnei Yisrael, and I shall bless them.”[7] The Name that figures in this promise is Shalom. Shalom is one of Hashem’s Names. When that Name and its influence are upon them, then I can confer My blessing upon them. Only with internal peace will the Divine brachah apply to them.

  1. Based on Chidushei R. Yosef Nechemia (Kornitzer) (1880-1933), Rav of Krakow
  2. Bamidbar 6:23
  3. Bereishis Rabbah 43:8
  4. Bereishis 15:5
  5. Bereishis 3:9
  6. Sifrei, Naso 6:26
  7. Bamidbar 6:27