Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Chaim Mordechai Hakohen ben Natan Yitzchak, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Avraham Yechezkel ben Yaakov Halevy, Shayna Yehudit bat Avraham Manes and Rivka, and HaRav Raphael ben HaRav Ephraim, the refuah shlaimah of Devorah bat Chana, Yitzhak Akiva ben Malka, Yekutiel Yehudah ben Pessel Lifsha, Yakir Ephraim ben Rachel Devorah and Shoshana Elka bat Etel Dina, and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Our parasha is the source of Birkat Kohanim (the Blessing of the Kohanim), one of the most stirring acts in our prayer experience. Nearly anyone who has witnessed this tefilah senses its drama and majesty. Chazal’s (our Sages of blessed memory) analysis of the introductory verse to Birkat Kohanim, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: ‘this is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them (amore lahem),’” (Sefer Vayikra 6:23) illustrates their abiding sensitivity to the Torah’s text. They note that the word “amore” (saying) is written in its complete grammatical form (maleh, with the Hebrew letter vav), rather than in the more usual manner (chaser, without the Hebrew letter vav). While initially this appears to be nothing more than a minor linguistic change, Midrash Tanchuma (Buber) Parashat Naso, Siman 18, details its profound significance:
[Amore] is spelled maleh in the phrase “amore lahem.” The reason why you [the Kohanim] should bless the Jewish people is not merely because I [G-d] have told you to do so [as if this act was some kind of burdensome chore.] Therefore, you should not bless them as if you were forced to do so (b’angaria, Hebrew - Greek) and in a rapid [unthinking and automatic] fashion. Instead, you [the Kohanim] should bless them [the Jewish people] with complete intention (b’kavanat halev) in order that the blessing should totally encompass them (she’tishlot habracha bahem). This is why the Torah writes: “amore lahem” [in the maleh form]. (Translation my own)
In sum, the Midrash informs us that our verse’s unusual spelling of amore urges the Kohanim to recognize that it is a singular honor to bless the Jewish people, and that they should have total kavanat halev during the recitation of the blessing to ensure its complete fulfillment.
The great mid-18th century Chasidic master, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Halevi Epstein, known to the world as the holy Me’or Vashemesh after the title of his most famous work, notes that many meforshim (Torah commentators) focus upon the question as to why the term amore is used instead of the normative word dabare, which connotes “speak” in its imperative form. In so doing, he highlights the emotions the Kohanim must have prior to ascending the bimah:
In my opinion, the answer to this well-known question of the meforshim is found by recognizing that our verse suggests that an individual [i.e. kohane] who desires to bless the Jewish people must have within him the behavioral quality of one who loves his people with a powerful love – equivalent to the love he has for himself and his own being (k’nafsho u’k’lavavo). (Sefer Me’or Vashemesh, Parashat Naso, this, and the following translation and brackets, my own)
Next, the Me’or Vashemesh explains that the love that the Kohanim have for the Jewish people must include each and every member of our nation, and depicts what this kind of love will achieve:
[The love that the Kohanim have] must include even the lowliest of the low of the Jewish people, for even such individuals they must love as they love themselves. Through this kind of love, the Kohanim will glorify the Jewish people before their Father in Heaven until the highest imaginable heights, and thereby bestir great mercy and kindness – and bring upon them every variety of blessing…
Clearly, the Kohanim have a crucial role to play in improving the status of our people before Hashem. Yet, the vast majority of us are not Kohanim. As such, how can we bring mercy and kindness to the world? The Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) answers this question in a manner that underscores the notion that anyone, Jew or gentile, can be sanctified to the point wherein they emulate the Kohanim:
Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and understands with his wisdom [how] to set himself aside and stand before G-d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G-d, proceeding justly as G-d made him … is as sanctified as holy of holies. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shemitah v’Yovel 13:13; translation by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)
With the Almighty’s help, may we be counted among those who develop profound and wise understanding, so that, we can become spiritual “Kohanim,” and bring Hashem’s blessings to to all mankind. V’chane yihi ratzon.
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
They may also be found on http://www.yutorah.org/ using the search criteria of Etengoff and the parasha’s name.
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*** My audio shiurim for Women on the topics of Tefilah and Tanach may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/8hsdpyd
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Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal