Posted on May 14, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

THE WORD KOHEN is spelled, Chof-Heh-Nun. It is a word that means to officiate in some way or another, but its letters allude to something deeper. The first two letters, Chof-Heh, have a history of their own, as does the last letter, Nun.

The Nun is easy, because it usually refers to the Nun Sha’arei Binah, the Fifty Gates of Understanding referred to here:

The world was created with fifty gates of understanding… (Rosh Hashanah 21b)

The Nun Sha’arei Binah are one of the most important concepts, especially in Kabbalah. They are the basis of Torah knowledge, and something we’re supposed to be trying to access daily. They are also the basis of ours souls, the Neshamah spelled, Nun-Shin-Mem-Heh, which can be read: Nun shamah, fifty is there.

The Chof-Heh is less obvious. Pronounced koh, the word shows up often in Tanach, often to introduce a prophecy. But perhaps one of the most famous occurrences is here:

You stay here—poh—with the donkey, while I and the lad will walk until there—koh, bow down and then return to you. (Bereishis 22:5)

This is what Avraham told Yishmael and Eliezer who had accompanied him and Yitzchak to the Akeidah. When they finally arrived at the location God had intended, Avraham saw the Shechinah as did Yitzchak. But Yishmael and Eliezer did not share their vision, which Avraham took as a Divine sign to leave them behind at that place referred to as “poh—here.”

In Gematria Kollel, when one is added to the total, poh (85) becomes 86, which is the numerical value of the Name of God, Elokim. Similarly, koh (25) becomes 26, the gematria of God’s Ineffable Name, the Shem Hovayah. In effect, Avraham told the two lads, “You stay here on the spiritual level of Elokim Who works through Nature, while we go to the level of Hovayah, which operates supernaturally.”

Not coincidentally, koh is used regarding Birchas Kohanim, the blessing of the people by the kohanim:

God spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to Aharon and his sons and tell them: ‘Chof-Heh—this is how you will bless the Children of Israel…’” (Bamidbar 6:22)

The Ba’al HaTurim explains:

This alludes to the merit [of the Akeidah when Avraham said] “I and the lad will walk until there—Chof-Heh” (Bereishis 22:5), and “thusChof-Hehwill be your seed” (Bereishis 15:5), and “as God has blessed me thusChof-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)

But the real significance of the number 25 appears here, explaining why it is associated with blessing:

God said, “Let there—yehi—be light!” (Bereishis 1:3)

The word yehi means let there be. But it is also a gematria, 10+5+10, or 25. This would make the verse read, “25 is the light.” And not just any light, but the Supernal Light of Creation regarding which it says:

God saw that the light was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness. (Bereishis 1:4)

He saw that the wicked were unworthy of using it, and therefore set it apart for the righteous in the future time. (Rashi)

He made a separation in the illumination of the light, that it should not flow or give off light except for the righteous, whose actions draw it down and make it shine. However, the actions of the evil block it, leaving them in [intellectual] darkness. This itself was the hiding of the light. (Sefer HaKlallim, Klal 18, Anaf 8, Os 4)

Any righteous person can access this wondrous light, but it was specifically the job of the kohanim to access it and draw it down to the people. It is only with this light that a person can access the Nun Sha’arei Binah, and ascend gate-by-gate. That’s why there are so many laws regarding kohanim, especially when it comes to maintaining a state of spiritual purity.