Torah Weekly

For the week ending 17 April 2004 / 26 Nisan 5764

Parshat Shemini

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Library Library Library


On the eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Aharon, his sons, and the entire nation bring various korbanot (offerings) as commanded by Moshe. Aharon and Moshe bless the nation. G-d allows the Jewish People to sense His Presence after they complete the Mishkan. Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, innovate an offering not commanded by G-d. A fire comes from before G-d and consumes them, stressing the need to perform the commandments only as Moshe directs. Moshe consoles Aharon, who grieves in silence. Moshe directs the kohanim as to their behavior during the mourning period, and warns them that they must not drink intoxicating beverages before serving in the Mishkan. The Torah lists the two characteristics of a kosher animal: It has split hooves, and it chews, regurgitates, and re-chews its food. The Torah specifies by name those non-kosher animals which have only one of these two signs. A kosher fish has fins and easily removable scales. All birds not included in the list of forbidden families are permitted. The Torah forbids all types of insects except for four species of locusts. Details are given of the purification process after coming in contact with ritually-impure species. Bnei Yisrael are commanded to be separate and holy like G-d.


Chant Of Love

"Aharon raised his hands toward the people and blessed them" (9:22)

One of the most awe-inspiring experiences is the Birkat HaKohanim, when a thousand-or-so kohanim bless the many thousands at the Western Wall in Yerushalyim on the second day of Chol HaMoed Pesach and Succot.

Most of the time, prayer at the Wall is a segmented affair. This group starts as this one finishes, while yet another group is somewhere in the middle.

Apart from the daily moments of silence at the dawns break when everyone begins together the Silent Prayer of eighteen blessings, I can think of no other time when the whole of the Kotel is as unified as it is by Birkat HaKohanim.

The haunting chant of the Kohanic blessing evokes deep and powerful feelings in the heart of every Jew however religious he may be. It is a chant that echoes down the years. It is a living witness to the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition that links us to Sinai.

The first appearance of that chant is in this weeks Torah portion. Aharon completed his first day of service in the Sanctuary and he then blessed the people with great joy. Such was his desire to bless the people that G-d rewarded him and his descendents that they should bless the Jewish People thus throughout the generations.

The word for blessing in Hebrew beracha, is connected to bereicha, which means a "pool." Blessing is an overflowing pool that enriches and fills our lives.

In the time of the Holy Temple, when the kohanim would bless the people, they would raise their hands over their heads and make a space between the third and fourth fingers of hands. When they recited the blessing using the ineffable Name of G-d, the Shechina, the Divine Presence, would rest on their hands. Although the Shechina no longer rests on the hands of the kohanim, to this day they still cover their heads and hands with their prayer shawls when they recite the blessing.

But maybe we could also understand a different symbolism behind the covering of the kohens hands.

Our Sages teach us that blessing only descends on things that are hidden from the eye, that the eye doesnt see. For example, a farmer who starts to weigh his grain man pray that his crop will be large, but if he has already weighed it, he man no longer make such a request, for the size of the crop is already revealed to the eye. When the kohanim cover their hands they symbolize this idea that blessing descends only on that which is hidden from the eye.

Mind you, I wouldnt recommend that because of this you give up checking your bank balance once in a while!

  • Sources: Talmud Bavli Bava Metzia 42a, Mishna Berura, 128:98

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