|The Voice of Torah: Nasso: Birchat Kohanim|
|Written by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger|
What is the meaning of the special bracha – found in this week’s parsha – that we receive from the Kohanim and that we bestow upon our children every Friday night?
May God bless you and keep you safe.
May God shine His face to you and be gracious to you.
May God lift His face to you and give you peace.
Let us focus on the most vexing question. What is the difference between “shine His face to you” and “lift His face to you”?
For the answer to this question and the key to the entire bracha, I want to suggest that we look at the beginning of the Amidah. As we begin (and end) the first bracha, we bend our knees and bow our heads, bending at Baruch and bowing at Ata. What is the meaning of these acts?
We bend our knees and bow our heads because these two distinct actions place us in the appropriate postures for the two primary interactions we are about to be experiencing with the Almighty: receiving and giving.
When we say “Baruch” we go into a receiving position. When you receive a gift from a superior, you must humble yourself in a way that maintains eye contact, because the superior is entitled to see your reaction to his gift (an example of this is the knight kneeling before the king to receive his knighthood). Our way of doing this is by bending our knee but remaining otherwise upright.
When we say “Ata” we posture ourselves as if we were giving a gift. When you give a gift to a superior, you must look away – as you have no right to see how he chooses to react to your gift. We do this by bowing.
Birchat Kohanim contains the same paradigm as the beginning of the Amidah.
God can “shine His face” when he is communicating with us. A shining face is indicative of the presence of a smile. Every time we receive a message from God that we experience as something good, it is like God is smiling at us. God can send a message in other ways as well. When we receive what we sometimes term a “wake-up call”, the experience might not necessarily be so pleasant. We understand that God is still acting out of love and in our best interest, but we do not get the sense of His smiling face. Indeed, behind the curtain, we know He is smiling, because He knows how the experience will help us. But our wish for our children (and the Kohen’s wish for us) is that all our experiences with God not only BE positive, but FEEL positive as well.
Then we ask God to “lift His face” to us. This occurs when we, not God, are initiating the contact. One lifts his face to acknowledge that someone is speaking to you, to pay him attention. This is what we ask of God – to give us His attention whenever we attempt to address Him.
Now we can appreciate the entire bracha. First we begin with a basic request – May God safeguard us. No relationship can flourish when one is beset with fears and anxieties. Once He has established the setting, we ask God for two things – positive interactions when God takes the lead in our relationship with Him, and that He turn to us with His loving attention when we take the initiative.