Priestly Blessing

  • Issue: September 2005
  • Designer: Aharon Shevo & Gad Almaliah
  • Stamp Size: 30.8 mm x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 619 (No phosphor bar)
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: offset

The Torah commands Aaron the priest and his offspring to bless the Israelites as follows: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!" (Numbers 6:22-26).

The Tannaitic literature call this the "Priestly Blessing" (Mishnah Sotah 7:2) or "nesi'at kapayim" (the "lifting up of the hands" - Sifrei on Numbers, Naso 140), for the priests raised their hands when delivering their blessing, as was common during prayer (Exodus 9:29, 33; Leviticus 9:22; I Kings 8:22, 38; Ezra 9:5; 111 Maccabees 2:1). This blessing is also called "perisat yadayim" (the "spreading of the hands") in the Talmudic literature.

During the Second Temple period the Priestly Blessing was delivered both in the Temple and elsewhere. After the destruction of the Temple, the venue of the blessing moved to the synagogue, where it was incorporated in the Amidah prayer of the weekday Shaharit morning service, the Shaharit and Mussafadditional service on Sabbath and Festival, and the Shaharit and Minhah afternoon service on public fasts.

In the current practice, the kohanim (priests) stand next to the Torah Ark, enwrapped in their talitot, as they face the congregation, that stands opposite them. The kohanim begin with the benediction: "Blessed are You, 0 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." The hazan (cantor) recites the Priestly Blessing word by word, and the kohanim repeat it out loud. The kohanim raise their hands to shoulder height, and recite the blessing with their fingers spread out, thus creating five spaces between their fingers. These are like five windows behind which the Holy One, blessed be He, stands and through which He gazes, as it is written: "peering through the lattice" (Song of Songs 2:9). The congregation does not look at the kohanim during the recital of the Blessing, because this would distract the recipients. In the Temple, people averted their gaze for an additional reason, as well: the Divine Presence rested upon the kohanim (Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 16a), and one may not gaze upon the Divine Presence. The Ashkenazic practice, from the thirteenth century on, is that the Priestly Blessing is recited only on Festivals. R. Moses Isserles, one of the leading Ashkenazic halakhic authorities in the sixteenth century, explained that this limitation is that, due to the exigencies of earning a livelihood, the kohanim are not as joyous on weekdays as on Festivals (Darkhei Moshe on Tur, Orah Hayyim 128). The practice among Eastern Jews and in the Land of Israel is to recite the Priestly Blessing every day of the year. Upon the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six Day War, the public recitation of the Priestly Blessing, by thousands of kohanim, was instituted at the Western Wall during Hol ha-Moed (the intermediary days) of the Passover and Sukkot holidays, for all those coming to Jerusalem.

Dr. Dov Herman
Jewish Studies Faculty
Bar-Ilan University

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Priestly Blessing