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How to Give a Blessing

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Birkat Kohanim (the blessing of the Kohanim) is not simply a nice addition to the prayer service on Yom Tov; Birkat Kohanim is, in fact, a daily positive commandment. In Eretz Yisrael (Israel), Birkat Kohanim is recited every day in the prayer services to fulfill this Mitzvah. Sephardic Jews also recite Birkat Kohanim every day in accordance with this positive commandment. Why, then, is it the custom of Ashkenazi Jews in the diaspora to recite Birkat Kohanim only on Yom Tov?

Rabbi Moshe Isserlis suggests that Kohanim are involved with their livelihoods during the week and focused on getting to work on time. They are, therefore, not in the appropriate state of mind to bless the people. On Yom Tov, when they are in a joyous mood celebrating Yom Tov, the Kohanim bless the people during the Musaf service. Our sages learn from a verse in Proverbs that a person with a good eye and a good heart delivers the most effective blessing.

Why is a joyous and good-hearted state of mind the best mind set to deliver a blessing? Our sages explain that the Divine presence rests where there is joy and peace. All blessings come from God and not from human beings. The idea of the Birkat Kohanim is that the Kohanim, through their blessing, bring the divine presence to the nation and God blesses the people. This is the reason that the Torah states: “And they will place My Name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” (Numbers 7,27) Based on this statement, the blessing recited by the Kohanim before blessing the people concludes with the word Be’ahavah (with love).

Our sages say that we should never underestimate the power of a blessing or dismiss a blessing as inconsequential. Any blessing coming from a mindset of joy, peace, and love can bring the Divine presence down and deliver tremendous blessing. Let us work on filling our own hearts with joy and peace, and then bless one another with love.