These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1078 The Elderly Gentleman and the Female Nurse – A Yichud Problem? Good Shabbos!
The Kohanim Are Not Giving Out Free Blessings
One of the mitzvos in Parshas Naso is the positive Biblical commandment for the Kohanim to bless the Jewish people on a daily basis. We in Chutz L’Aretz only practice this mitzvah on Yom Tov (the Shalosh Regalim, Rosh HaShannah, and Yom Kippur), but in Eretz Yisrael, there is Birkas Kohanim every single day. In fact, you do not need to travel to Eretz Yisrael to see this. The Kohanim also bless the people on a daily basis at Sephardic congregations who follow the Psak of the author of Shulchan Aruch (Rav Yosef Karo). In fact, on Shabbos at Ner Yisroel, where all the Iranian young men together with other Sephardic young men have their own minyan, they say Birkas Kohanim.
When Rav Simcha Zissel Brody, zt”l, (the Chevroner Rosh Yeshiva) spent several years here as a “Visiting Rosh Yeshiva,” he missed the Birkas Kohanim that he was used to on a daily basis in Eretz Yisrael, so he and Rabbi Neuberger ran into the Iranian minyan every Shabbos to grab an opportunity to be blessed by the Kohanim. This is a positive Biblical commandment – at least for the Kohanim.
The Sefer Akeidas Yitzchak from Rav Yitzchak Arama [1420-1494] asks several fundamental questions on the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim. His answer provides an absolutely new understanding of what exactly Birkas Kohanim is about. He asks five different questions.
1. Why do we need the Kohanim to give us blessings? The Ribono shel Olam is the source of all blessings! Why should we need Kohanim to be a conduit for blessing? In today’s efficient society, the primary rule of business is “cut out the middle man.” Let’s go directly to the source!
2. The Gemara teaches [Rosh Hashana 28b] that the Kohanim may not add any personal blessings to the Birkas Kohanim recorded in Parshas Nasso. The Gemara cites the pasuk, “Do not add to the matter that I command you and do not detract from it…” [Devorim 4:2] as a Biblical pasuk which prohibits any Kohen from deviating from the specific text proscribed in this week’s parsha. If the Almighty is already giving the Kohanim license to bless the nation, then why limit them? Why do we not say, “Whoever increases is praiseworthy?”
Poskim in fact discuss this matter. The Minhag Yisrael (Jewish custom) is that when the Kohanim descend from the platform after having blessed the people, the non-Kohanim who were blessed say to the Kohanim “Y’asher Kochacha” [Good job!] and the Kohanim typically respond “Baruch Ti’heyeh” [You should be blessed]. The later rabbinic authorities discuss whether they are in fact allowed to say that. Is it not a violation of adding, so to speak, a non-authorized personal blessing to the Jewish people?
3. The Sefer Charedim holds (as the Mishna Berura brings in the Biur Halacha) that not only is it a Mitzvah for the Kohanim to bless the Jewish people but there is also a Mitzvah for the Jewish people to be blessed by the Kohanim! This, too, seems odd. Is there a need to command anyone to receive a blessing? It seems superfluous to “require” such an action on the part of the non-Kohanim.
4. The text of the 3 Priestly Blessings is such that the Name of G-d is repeated by each blessing. (Yevarechecha HASHEM…; Ya’er HASHEM…; Yisa HASHEM…. In the Bais Hamikdash they actually pronounced the explicit Name of G-d. Why is this necessary? It seems redundant!
5. Finally, what is the meaning of the last line of Birkas Kohanim? “And they shall place MY Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” Who is blessing Israel here – the Kohen or Hashem? It is unclear!
The Akeidas Yitzchak explains that every single blessing begins with the words “Baruch Ata Hashem“. What do these three words mean? Older English translations use the expression “Blessed art Thou” and newer translations that are more “contemporary” use “Blessed are You”. However, these translations do not reflect the true meaning of “Baruch Ata Hashem“. Both Rabbeinu Bachya on Chumash, the Akeidas Yitzchak over here and many other early commentaries write that the expression “Baruch” comes from the Hebrew word “Bereicha” (meaning a pool or reservoir of water). “Baruch Ata Hashem” means “Ribono shel Olam, You are the source of all blessing.”
When I say “Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech haOlam Borei Pri Ha’Etz,” I am declaring that I recognize that You the Master of the Universe are the source of all blessing and therefore if not for You, I would not have this apple. The Ribono shel Olam wants us to do this because He wants us to know that every single apple and every single piece of salami and every single piece of bread we eat comes from Him.
It is not me. It is not my money. It is not my talent. It has nothing to do with me. It all comes from You! That is what the declaration “Baruch Ata Hashem” teaches. If we acknowledges the present we received from Hashem, He will keep giving us presents. If someone gives you a present and you do not say thank you; you do not show appreciation, he may stop giving you presents. That is only natural. If we want more apples, we want more salami, and we want more cake or bread, then we must say “Baruch Ata Hashem…” each time.
That is what Brochos are about and that is what Birkas Kohanim is about as well. It is not a blessing from the Kohanim. Kohanim do not give blessings. Only the Ribono shel Olam gives blessings. Rather, Birkas Kohanim is a ‘Mussar Shmooz‘: Yevarechecha Hashem v’Yishmerecha – You should know that blessing – and everything else — comes from Hashem. Ya’er Hashem Eilecha vy’Chuneka – Yisa Hashem Panav Elecha… Do you want anything in this world? Know that it comes from the Master of the World. That is why the text repeats and emphasizes the name of Hashem with each sentence.
With this understanding, it becomes very clear why the Kohanim cannot “add another blessing of their own.” No sir! We cannot give the impression that it is the Kohanim who are the source of the blessing. A Kohen who would say, “I will go ahead and give another bracha” is defeating the whole purpose of Birkas Kohanim. On the contrary – the lesson of Birkas Kohanim is that there is no other source of brachos other than HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
This also explains the opinion of the Chareidim that there is a mitzvah on Klal Yisrael to hear Birkas Kohanim. Previously, we did not understand this opinion. Why should it be necessary to “command” anyone to go receive blessings? The answer is – Yes, it is necessary – because people do not like to hear mussar. The Kohanim are not getting up on the platform and dispensing blessings. They are dispensing mussar! They are telling the audience “Listen, you may be a millionaire, you may be sitting on top of the world now – but it did not come from you! You are a klutz! As easily as you are the millionaire and he is the pauper, he could be the millionaire and you could be the pauper! Things are the way they are because the Ribono shel Olam wanted it that way.
Do I need to hear a mussar shmooz every single day? I am not interested in that! The Chareidim teaches that it is a mitzvah to hear this mussar shmooz every single day. “It is a mitzvah to “be blessed.”
Finally, this explains why Birkas Kohanim ends with the words, “And you will place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” Once they repeatedly hear Yevarechecha Hashem…; Ya’er Hashem…; Yissa Hashem… and they understand what “Baruch” means, and they know what a “Breicha” is, then I will be able to bless them.
This is a whole different understanding of Birkas HaKohanim. They are not giving free gifts. They are not giving out blessings. They are teaching us that we need to know the source of all blessing in this world and that is only the Ribono shel Olam and no one else.
So says the Akeidas Yitzchak in this week’s parsha.
A Story Which Teaches The Lesson of The Longest Parsha
Parshas Naso is the longest parsha in the Torah – 176 pesukim. I remember as a little boy, thinking, “Wow! I am so glad that my Bar Mitzvah parsha is not Parshas Naso.” I remember a fellow about 10 years older than myself, about my brother’s age, who had a Bar Mitzvah on Parshas Naso. I wondered to myself – how did this fellow remember the trop for 176 pesukim!
Then, when I was a little older, I said to myself, “Parshas Naso? That’s a piece of cake for a Bar Mitzvah Baal Koreh!” It is easy because all you do for a good portion of the parsha is repeat a series of pesukim almost verbatim detailing the identical offerings of each of 12 tribal princes. Furthermore, this is the same reading as we do on Chanukah, so it is already familiar. It is no big deal! It is all the same thing!
This leads all the Rishonim to the question – Why do we need to repeat the same thing twelve times? The offerings could have been spelled out for the first tribal prince and then in a few short pesukim, mention that the remaining 11 princes on subsequent days each brought the identical offering. All the commentaries discuss this.
Allow me to share a true story:
In Czarist Russia, when they drafted a person into the army, he remained there for 25 years! Aside from all other implications of the experience, a Jew that went through such a tour of duty would, had his Judaism destroyed. People in Russia tried to get out of the draft. They applied for different exemptions, including sometimes doing some extra-legal things.
A student of Rav Yitzchak Elchanon Spektor, the Rabbi of Kovno, received a letter from the Government that he was about to be drafted. He applied for an exemption but did not receive an answer right away. Everyone was sitting on pins and needles – what is going to be? The Yeshiva and the town, including Rav Yitzchak Elchanon, were all praying that the exemption should come through for this young man. They had to sit and wait.
Rav Yitzchak Elchanon was the greatest rabbi of the generation (Gadol Hador). He was sitting in on a Din Torah [adjudicating a civil dispute between two parties] together with the Rav of Mir, Rav Elya Baruch Kamai, and one other European Torah authority of the day. It was an intense case and the judges finally convinced the disputants that they should come to a compromise between themselves. They were in the midst of an intense discussion how to work out the details of the compromise.
A young student barged into the room and said “Yankel got his exemption.” Rav Yitzchak Elchanon replied, “Thank G-d! I appreciate very much your telling me this great piece of news. In the merit of you sharing this wonderful news, you should merit a long life and receive much Divine blessing. Yasher Koach!”
Three minutes later, another bochur burst into the room, saying, “Rebi, Yankel got his exemption!” Again, Yitzchak Elchanon said “Ahh! Yasher Koach for letting me know this great piece of news. In the merit of bringing me this news, you should receive much Divine blessing. You should live a long life. Yasher Koach!”
This scene repeated itself six times! Rather than saying after the first or second time, “I know already! Thank you”, he gave the same enthusiastic bracha to each and every person that came in to tell him this piece of good news. Why? Because just like the first person needed that recognition and show of appreciation, the second person and the third person and even the sixth person needed that recognition as well. They were no less worthy than the first person.
This is the lesson taught by Rav Yitzchak Elchanon. When somebody is excited to share good tidings and is getting pleasure from sharing the good tidings – he deserves the encouragement (chizuk), the recognition and the blessing that such a delivery of good news deserves, even if in fact the “news” is already not at all a novel piece of information. If the Almighty can do that with the 12 princes, using all those words to do it, making Parshas Naso the longest parsha in the Torah, so can we.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Nasso is provided below:
- 059 Sheitel: A Woman’s Obligation to Cover Her Hair
- 103 Birchas Kohanim
- 148 Sotah: The Case of the Unfaithful Wife
- 195 Birchas Kohanim: Who Can and Who Can’t?
- 241 Yichud and the Housekeeper
- 285 Sa’ar B’isha Ervah
- 331 NassoMust A Kallah Cover Her Hair at the Chasunah?
- 375 Ain Osin Mitzvos Chavilos
- 419 Causing the Erasure of Hashem’s Name
- 463 Dee’chui Eitzel Mitzvos
- 507 The Faithful Unfaithful Wife
- 551 Being Motzi a Wife in Kiddush
- 595 Chazonim and Chazanus
- 639 The Unfaithful Wife – Is Ignorance an Excuse?
- 683 Shalom Bayis – How Far Can One Go?
- 727 Singing During Davening – Pro or Con?
- 771 Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Bishul Akum,
- 815 The Laws of Sotah – Still Very Relevant
- 859 Walking Behind a Woman
- 903 Shavuous- Fascinating Halachos
- 947 Birchas Kohanim−Whose Mitzva−The Kohain or Yisroel?
- 990 Cutting Down A Fruit Tree for Home Expansion
- 1034 Ba’alas Teshuva Who Was Not Honest With Her Husband
- 1078 The Elderly Gentleman and the Female Nurse – A Yichud Problem?
- 1121 The Enigma of Shimshon HaGibor
- 1163 Avoiding Yichud: Must the Door be Open or Merely Unlocked.
- 1207 Listening to music – as mutar as you think?
- 1251 Sitting Next to a Woman on an Airplane
- 1295 Davening/Bentching/Making Kiddush in Front of a Woman Who Is Not Properly Dressed
- 1339 The Sole Practiioner Lawyer and His Jewish Secretary – A Yichud Problem?
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