The priestly blessing
The Priestly or Aaronic blessing is a wonderful blessing that we could regard as a prayer.
This prayer of blessing has a few names. In Hebrew it is the Birkat Kohanim and reads:
Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yeesh’m’reicha.
The LORD bless you and keep you, The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
In English it is called the Priestly Benediction, the Priestly Blessing, the Aaronic Benediction, or the Beautiful Benediction.
It was given to Israel while in the wilderness, but today it is pronounced by descendants of Aaron, Kohanim of priestly lineage at such special times as Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah,and Yom Kippur. In Israel, however, the Birkat Kohanim is said daily in the synagogue and is the only remaining functional link between the present day synagogue and the ancient temple in Jerusalem.
Twice a year, at Pesach and Sukkot, a mass Priestly Blessing takes place at the Western Wall.
Tens of thousands of people gather for this impressive event, receiving this historic blessing from hundreds of descendants of Aaron. Before pronouncing the Priestly Blessing, today’s Kohanim recite in unison:
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.
It is the only mitzvah in Judaism whose accompanying blessing must be performed “with love” (b’ah-ha-VAH)
Although the Aaronic priests were told to pronounce the Birkat Kohanim over the Children of Israel, the blessing is phrased in the singular “you.”
It is a personal blessing, addressed to the needs and desires of the individual. It is the blessing of a loving God and Father to each of His children. In this short blessing, the name of God is mentioned three times, emphasizing the fact that all blessing comes from the Lord.
He, rather than the Kohanim, is the source of all goodness and blessing. We see the same thing in James 1:17:
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
The High Priest (Kohen Gadol)was the only one who could pronounce the Priestly Blessing over God’s people and was traditionally required to do it barefoot (based on Exodus 3:5), fasting and holding his cleansed hands in a specific gesture as seen in Leviticus 9:22. This became known as Nesiat Kapayim, Lifting Up of the Hands.
While pronouncing the blessing, the Kohen would spread his fingers apart, placing his thumbs together to represent the Hebrew letter shin. Shin is also the letter on the mezuzah and stands for El Shaddai, God Almighty. According to Jewish tradition, the divine presence would shine through the fingers of the High Priest as he blessed the people. Therefore, no one was allowed to look at him during the blessing, out of respect and awe of the power of the Almighty.
The Purpose of the Priestly Blessing
Numbers 6:24-26 is followed by a final verse that explains God’s ultimate desire in having His priests confer the blessing:
So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them. Numbers 6:27
We need to consider the Hebrew concept of “name,” shem in Hebrew. The word shem is related to ne-shama or “breath.”
One’s name, therefore, is connected to one’s very being, character, worth, or reputation.
Names are very important in Hebrew! A name can make you what you are. If God places His name upon His people, He places His very being upon them, His character and authority, His power and presence.
The name used in the biblical text of Numbers 6:24-27 is the sacred tetragrammaton, Yod Hey Vav Hey, which is used in the Old Covenant Scriptures more than 6,500 times. This refers to the one true God of Israel and is translated as “LORD” in our English bibles. The sacred name of God ceased to be pronounced around the 3rd century B.C., since no one knew exactly which vowels were used in the Name, and the Jewish rabbis did not want to risk desecrating the Holy Name. This is the same reason given for writing God as G-d.
Today, when Orthodox Jews come across the sacred tetragrammaton, they substitute the Hebrew word Adonai (Lord) for יהוה Some Orthodox Jews won’t use Adonai, but substitute HaShem for the sacred name. There are a number of extreme positions taken today by people (usually non-Jews) who insist that they know how to pronounce the sacred name. Some maintain that YHWH is YeHoVah. Others insist it is YaHWeh. Therefore, when they pronounce the Birkat Kohanim, they insert these names.
Most traditional Jews and Messianic Jews that we know use Adonai: Y’vah-reh-kh’khah Ah-do-nai but we are not adamant on this. What we can affirm is that God’s name comes an impartation of all that He is—the Great I Am of Exodus 3:13-14, the Source of all being, in Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh.
The Birkat Kohanim is a 3-fold benediction. In Hebrew, the three sentences contain 3, 5, and 7 words, the number of words increasing along with the divine favor proclaimed in the blessing. Some rabbis point out that if we extract the three times that God’s name is mentioned, there are 12 words in the Birkat Kohanim, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Hebrew, the original language of the Priestly Blessing, has multiple layers of meaning for most words. Words which are abstract in English have concrete meanings in Hebrew. Words such as bless, keep, face, shine, gracious and peace have a depth of meaning in Hebrew that goes beyond the surface meaning. We will see this as we present a d’rash, an interpretation of the text.
The LORD bless you and keep you.
The word for bless in Hebrew is barakh, which literally means to kneel down. It is related to berek, which is knee.
This is a picture of the Great God of the Universe, the Creator, bending down to touch His children with His loving hands.
God humbles Himself to bless those He loves. Love comes down to bless. Love came down a ladder at Bethel. Love came down on Mt. Sinai to bless Moses and the children of Israel. God’s love as a Father blesses His children by coming down to our level. That’s exactly what He did in Yeshua the Messiah. He made Himself available to us by coming down to earth—to bless all mankind.
A beautiful picture of barakh (bless) in the Brit Hadasha is Yeshua at the Last Passover, kneeling to wash the feet of His talmidim, disciples. He was giving them the gift of Himself, of His love while showing them the way to serve others.
The LORD bless you and keep you can be looked at as a blessing in the physical realm, or physical and bodily blessings. This first level of blessing includes the idea of God watching over, protecting, and keeping His children safe from harm. The root Hebrew word for keep is shamar, which literally means to hedge about with thorns. The image painted by this word is of a sheepfold in the wilderness. The shepherd would erect an enclosure of thornbushes for his sheep to keep out predators such as wolves. The sheep were protected and guarded from harm.
We are the sheep that Adonai wants to protect. Our Good Shepherd places a hedge of protection around us. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God of Psalm 91:1:
The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
This second part of the Birkat Kohanim includes increased blessing. We move from the physical realm to the realm of the soul. There is a concept of mental and emotional blessing in that God is gracious, kind, merciful and giving us favour.
His face shines on us revealing His glory, His presence and even His smile.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you.
Face in Hebrew is panim, a plural word, which actually refers to one’s entire being as revealed in the face.
The God of Israel desires that His children seek His face.
When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek’” Psalm 27:8
Our God wants us to experience Him in all His many-faceted wonder. He has emotions. He deeply loves us yet hates sin. He is complete in Himself, yet desires to have intimacy with His creation. He shone His face upon Jacob in a wrestling match, which ended in a blessing. He makes His face shine upon us through Yeshua, the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3).
The idea of shining is connected with ohr אור , Hebrew for light.
In the Birkat Kohanim, when God’s face shines upon us, light overwhelms darkness. Order is brought out of chaos, as in Genesis 1:1-4. We are enlightened and receive revelation. We are transformed as sen in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18.
The face of Adonai also radiates divine favor—unmerited favor. While Yahweh was giving the Ten Words to Moses on Mt. Sinai, His people were making a golden calf to worship. Great grace! Unconditional love. Gracious in Hebrew is khanan, literally to show favor to. It also means to be merciful, exhibit compassion, be considerate of, or demonstrate a longing for. God’s rebellious, imperfect people did not deserve the Priestly Blessing, but God gave it to them anyway. That is because of who He is: Gracious (Exodus 22:27; 34:5-6). Each time the Israelites turned away from the Lord. He promised to treat them with mercy and compassion if they returned. “
…for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him. 2 Chronicles 30:9The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
This third part of the Priestly Blessing deals with the spirit of man and ends with the highest blessing in the Hebrew mind.
It is said that peace is the most precious, though unfortunately most elusive attainment within the reach of man. The word for peace in Hebrew is shalom, which literally means completeness or wholeness. It comes from the root word Shalam, to make restitution or amends, to restore and make even better than the original state. This final part of the blessing lets us know that Yahweh longs for His people to be made whole, with all His heart and all His being.
Shalom in the Hebrew understanding is much more than the absence of conflict. It is rest, tranquility, prosperity, health, and an overall sense of well-being. It is the God of the Bible redeeming our past, restoring what the enemy has stolen. Those of us who have received the Messiah Yeshua, the Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, have peace with God the Father through Him. We have been born again by the Spirit of the Living LORD.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach. Romans 5:1
We have a High Priest in heaven, Yeshua the Messiah, who is of an even higher order than Aaron. He is an eternal Kohen Gadol, after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrew 5:10). Through Him, in His Name, we can pronounce the Priestly Blessing, even over ourselves. Every week at temple services, the Birkat Kohanim is pronounced as people gather as a mishpochah (family).
Following His resurrection from the dead, Yeshua was with His talmidim for forty days. Then He went with them to the Mount of Olives before ascending into heaven. The Bible tells us that He lifted both hands and proclaimed a blessing over them. Perhaps the blessing He pronounced was the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26.
They worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Luke 24:52.
May joy be your portion as you give and receive the Priestly Blessing in the Name above all names, the name of Yeshua, the Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, our New Covenant High Priest.