G-d spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to Aharon and his sons and tell them: ‘This (Chof-Heh) is how you will bless the Children of Israel…’ ” (Bamidbar 6:22)
One of the many advantages of living in Eretz Yisroel is Birchat Kohanim, which is said everyday by the kohanim, and sometimes even a few times in one day, as opposed to only on the holidays in the Diaspora. For someone from Eretz Yisroel who visits the Diaspora, the lack of Birchat Kohanim is really felt. And, for those fortunate enough to make it to the Kotel HaMa’aravi during Chol HaMoed to be blessed by thousands of kohanim, is the experience of a lifetime.
As to the power of Birchat Kohanim, the Ba’al HaTurim found some interesting connections to special events in Jewish history and the all- important concept of peace. Commenting on the usage of the word “koh”, which means “this”, he said:
This is to allude to the merit [of the Akeidah when Avraham said] “I and the lad will walk until there (Chof-Heh)…” (Bereishit 22:5); and “thus, Chof-Heh will be your seed” (Bereishit 15:5); and “as G-d has blessed me thus — Chof-Heh” (Yehoshua 17:14). Koh has the numerical value of 25, which is the amount of letters in “Shema Yisroel”. As well, the language of blessing occurs in the entire Torah 25 times, as does the word “shalom” (peace). (Ba’al HaTurim)
One was not allowed to look at the fingers of the kohanim as they blessed the people because the Divine Presence flowed through their hands during the blessing, a tremendous revelation of the Supernal Light of Creation. Similarly, we find such a revelation of Divine Light at the Akeidah, Avraham’s tenth and final test.
The Torah recounts that G-d told Avraham regarding his son Yitzchak:
Go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering, upon one of the mountains which I will show you. (Bereishit 22:2)
Obediently, Avraham left for the land of Moriah with no specific indication of where he was to offer Yitzchak up to G-d; that information was to be revealed to him at a later time. Sure enough, on the third day of his journey, Avraham “lifted up his eyes” and saw the Divine sign: a mountain encompassed with fire from Heaven to earth, and the Clouds of Glory hovering above it (Bereishit Rabbah 56:2).
The Midrash says that, at that time, Avraham was uncertain as to who was to accompany him up the mountain. Aside from Yitzchak, Avraham had brought along Yishmael, his son from Hagar, and Eliezer his trusted servant.
Perhaps even Yitzchak was unworthy to complete the journey to Mount Moriah, the future location of both Temples. Therefore, Avraham tested each of them: anyone who saw the Divine Presence in the distance, he rightly assumed, was meant to travel with him up the mountain.
In the end, only Yitzchak shared Avraham’s vision, and therefore it says:
Avraham told the men, “You stay here — poh: (Peh-Heh) with the donkey, while I and the lad will walk until there — koh: (Chof-Heh) prostrate ourselves and then return to you.” (Bereishit 22:5)
Fascinatingly, in Gematria Kollel, the numerical value of the word “poh” (here) is 86: 80+5+1, and of “koh” (there) is 26: 20+5+1. The numerical value of G-d’s Name, “Elokim” — the name of G-d when He works through nature, is also 86: 1+30+5+10+40, and the numerical value of the Ineffable Name of G-d is 26: 10+5+6+5 — the Name of G-d when He works supernaturally. Thus, on a simple level, Avraham had simply given instructions to Yishmael and Eliezer to remain behind with the donkey. However, on a deeper level the verse and the usage of the word koh allude to a revelation of the Divine Presence and the light of Creation. It also represented an important fork in the spiritual road between Avraham and the rest of the nations of the world, the former being able to see the hand of G-d working “behind the scenes” of history, and the latter being unable to do so.
G-d said, “Let there be light!” (Bereishit 1:3)
The third reference of the Ba’al HaTurim is from the days of Yehoshua and the division of the land of Israel among the tribes. The tribe of Yosef complained to Yehoshua that G-d had blessed them with more people than their allotted portion could hold. The koh, according to Rashi, alludes to their increase of about 25,000—25 times 1,000 people, and also to the fulfillment of G-d’s promise to Avraham to greatly increase his seed. And, the final reference of the Ba’al HaTurim is to the “Shema”, the creed of the Jewish people, which has 25 letters in it, and to the word “shalom”, which appears 25 times in the Torah, seemingly indicating that the importance of the word “koh” is not its simple meaning, but its simple but profound gematria. The question is, what is so special about the number 25?
The significance of the number 25 becomes apparent in the third verse of the Torah, which recounts the creation of light on the first day of Creation:
G-d said, “Yehi ohr — Let there be light!” (Bereishit 1:3)
Though, traditionally the Hebrew word “yehi” translates as “let there be”, the entire phrase can also be read as follows: yehi = ohr, that is, yehi is the ohr. And, if the word yehi — Yud-Heh-Yud is converted into a gematria = 10+5+10, which has a total of 25, then the phrase would read: 25 equals light, and hence, the twenty-fifth word in the Torah is “ohr” — light.
Thus, the number 25 represents the Original Light, the Supernal Light of Creation. And apparently, it was for the revelation of this holy and sublime light that Creation was made, as the Torah comments:
G-d saw the light, that it was good. (Bereishit 1:4)
For, “good” means that the creation of this light fulfilled the mandate of Creation. Furthermore, it stands to reason that whenever something results in the revelation of this light, be it a thought, a word or a deed, the number 25 is bound to appear. Hence, the Shema, with its 25 letters, becomes our reminder to do that which results in the revelation of this light.
What does this mean?
To begin with, as we have already seen, the number 25 can also be represented by the letters Chof-Heh = 20+5, which also form the word “koh” — “thus”. For example:
Thus (Chof-Heh) says Ya’akov your servant… (Bereishit 32:5)
Moshe looked this way and that way (kov v’koh)… (Shemot 2:12)
In fact, many of the later prophets began their words of prophecy with, “So (Chof-Heh) says G-d…” A formality, or an allusion to the light of Creation?
The Talmud reveals:
With the light that The Holy One, Blessed is He, created on the first day, Adam could see from one end of the world until its end. (Chagigah 12a) There is no physical light known to mankind that allows for such vision; we can’t even see around the corner with our light, let alone across from one end of the world to the end! Furthermore, says the Zohar:
With the Hidden Light, G-d nourishes the world. (Zohar, Shemot 149a) Nourishes the world? What kind of light “nourishes” the world? Physical light can indirectly result in nourishment, but in and of itself such light is not a source of human nourishment. Therefore, the Talmud explains: “G-d saw the light, that it was good, and He divided…” (Bereishit 1:4): He saw that it was not worth letting the evil people use it, and He set it aside for the righteous in the Time-to-Come. (Chagigah 12a) In other words, says the Talmud, when the Torah says that G-d made a division, it refers to a division in time, between the time that the Original Light was allowed to shine and the time after G-d hid it. Hence, the light’s other name, “Ohr HaGanuz”— the Hidden Light. However, neither the Talmud nor Rashi explain where G-d actually hid the light. The Leshem provides an important insight for finding it:
G-d made a division in the light’s shining, that it should only emanate for the righteous people whose actions draw the light down; the deeds of the evil people prevent its shining, and this was the hiding. (Sha’arei Leshem, p. 103)
Thus, we are told by the Talmud, there are 36 righteous people in every generation who daily greet the Divine Presence (Succah 45b). Furthermore, says the Midrash:
“The people who walk in darkness see the Great Light” (Yeshayahu 9:1); These are the masters of the [Babylonian] Talmud who see the Great Light because The Holy One, Blessed is He, illuminates their eyes. (Tanchuma, Noach 3)
Which “Great Light”? The great light of 25. Which 25? The 25 that alludes to the Hidden Light of Creation, or more precisely, the revelation of the reality of G-d in Creation, the purpose of the light and of all of Creation, and the mandate of the Jewish people as expressed in the Shema of 25 letters. Birchat Kohanim was a direct application of this mandate.
On the day that Moshe had finished setting up the Mishkan and had anointed and sanctified it, along with all of its implements, the altar and all of its implements, the princes of Israel, heads of the paternal houses, princes of the tribes who were over those counted, offered the following… (Bamidbar 7:1)
Thus, it is very appropriate that the parshah end with the offerings of the princes in honor of the inauguration of the Mishkan. The Mishkan was like an oil well for Divine revelation: it pierced the surface of reality to draw out the Hidden Light of Creation into the world of everyday life. The service in the Mishkan was Klal Yisroel functioning as a “light unto nations” at its very best.
Even more appropriate is the way the mitzvah of the Menorah follows this, as the Talmud says:
G-d needs the light [of the Menorah]? For the entire 40-year period that the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they did so by His light [and not by the light of the Menorah]. Rather, [the light of the Menorah] was for a “testimony”, so that everyone in the world would know that the Divine Presence resided amongst the Jewish people. What was the testimony? The western candle contained as much oil as the others, yet others were kindled from it, and its oil never diminished. (Shabbat 22b)
This is the very same Menorah that became the symbol of the holiday of light on the 25th day of Kislev, a holiday made possible because of the self-sacrifice of the kohanim who saved the day. Just as the Divine Presence flowed through their hands when they blessed the people, likewise it flowed through their hands as they defeated the mighty Greek army. Just as the miraculous oil of the Menorah testified to the Presence of G-d amongst the Jewish people, likewise the miraculous victory of the kohanim testified to the Presence of G-d amongst the Jewish people.
With this in mind, perhaps we can offer a different answer to an old question, posed by the Ramban and based on Rashi’s explanation in next week’s parshah. Rashi himself asked, why is it that the mitzvah of the Menorah at the beginning of next week’s parshah follows the gifts brought by the princes at the end of this week’s parshah? Rashi’s answer: Because, Aharon HaKohen, after seeing his tribe left out of the prince’s gifts, thought that maybe he had not been forgiven for his role in the golden calf, so G-d told him to not worry since he would always be the one to kindle the Menorah, whereas the princes’ gifts were a one-time thing. However, the Ramban questions Rashi’s answer because, first of all, lighting the Menorah was obligatory as opposed to a free-will gift like that of the princes, and secondly, any kohen could do the mitzvah, not just Aharon. Therefore, the Ramban says, the Menorah was a consolation of a different sort, alluding to the future miracle by Aharon’s descendants in the time of the Chashmonaim.
Perhaps, though, there is another answer as well. Maybe G-d was alluding to a different message about the kohanim, a different ability, one that permits them to be able to be a conduit for the Shechinah, to such an extent that the light of G-d literally flows through their fingers out to the people.
In other words, G-d was not simply telling Aharon HaKohen that his descendants would light the Menorah, He was telling them that they are like the Menorah itself! The princes had to bring gifts because that is the way that they could have a share in the service in the Mishkan. That is the way that they could contribute to the light meant to emanate out from the Mishkan.
However, G-d hinted to Aharon HaKohen, that not only does he actually perform the service in the Mishkan and act as conduit for the light of G- d, but that the kohanim are like the Menorah itself that is a testimony to the Presence of G-d dwelling amongst the Jewish people.
G-d told Moshe, “Speak to the Children of Israel, and tell them about when a man’s wife deceives him…” (Bamidbar 5:11-12)
What seems out of place in this week’s parshah is the Nazir and the Sotah. However, the Talmud finds a connection between these two matters, even though it is not easy to find a connection between them and the rest of the parshah. The Talmud says that the Nazir takes a vow to abstain from wine because he happens to witness the destruction of wine vis-à-vis the wine the Sotah and her illicit partner drank together.
However, both, the Nazir and the Sotah, represent two sides of the same coin, or should I say “kohen”. The Sotah is the result of indulgence to the extent of that which is forbidden, and the Nazir is the exact opposite by denying himself even that which is permissible.
As Rashi points out, the Sotah does not happen without a reason; it is not just about a wayward woman who didn’t appreciate the family she had been blessed to build. As Rashi explains, the Sotah was the indirect result of the husband who did not want to bring the kohanim their due. As Rashi says, “If you don’t visit the kohen to bring him his tithes, then you’ll have to visit him to have your wife drink the Sotah waters to either incriminate or vindicate her suspicious behavior.
In other words, there is a middah-k’neged-middah here. For not supporting the kohanim, for not contributing to their livelihood so they can act as the conduit for G-d’s light in this world, for not helping the light to emanate in G-d’s house, darkness overtakes the home of the husband of the Sotah. For, as we know from Parashat Mikeitz, a man’s wife is often referred to as his “bread”, so for denying the kohanim their “bread”, the man loses his own.
The Nazir, on the other hand, represents loyalty to G-d. He is the person who abstains from that which can make him act in an unholy manner, in such a way that takes him away from G-d, not closer to Him. In a sense, the Nazir is like the kohen who lives between two worlds, the physical everyday world, and the higher, far more spiritual world.
Indeed, like the kohen, he is forbidden to be involved in certain activities, and should not become defiled by the dead, like a kohen. So, if the Sotah was the product of a husband who could part with his fruits and support the kohen, then the Nazir must be the antidote, the opposite attitude of the husband, and therefore the cure to Sotah-like situations. When we act in a similar manner, even if we don’t actually abstain from wine products and the like, then we too become kohen-like, and become a conduit for the light of Creation. In our own way, people look at our behavior and see G-dliness; we become fitting vehicles for the Shechinah to dwell upon, and even though the effect might not be as dramatic as we’d like it to be, we have to know that G-d Himself will magnify it at some point in time, and we will be pleasantly surprised to see just how much the light of Creation can flow through us as well.
Have a great Shabbat,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org