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Shabbat Parashat Naso| 5766

Who Blesses the Blessers?

 One of the “highlights” of our parasha is Birkat Kohanim, the blessing given by members of the priestly tribe to the congregation. The kohanim are commanded: “So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael” (Bamidbar 6:23), and they perform this mitzva daily in Israel and on holidays abroad. Theyrecite three sets of two requests of Hashem, separated by His name, as the One who provides the good. After giving the text that they use, the Torah concludes, “They shall place My name on Bnei Yisrael, and I shall bless them” (ibid. 6:27). According to this pasuk, whom is Hashem blessing?
 The gemara (Chulin 45a) gives two opinions on the final phrase, “I shall bless them.” R. Yishmael starts with a question. Bnei Yisrael are blessed by the kohanim; who blesses the kohanim? Our pasuk, he interprets, answers the question: Hashem blesses the kohanim. R. Akiva asks a different question. The kohanim bless the people; but how do we know that Hashem blesses the people? To this, he brings the same pasuk,“I shall bless them.” In other words, Hashem confirms the blessings that the kohanim try to confer on Bnei Yisrael. This leaves us with two parallel questions. According to R. Yishmael, who confirms the kohanim’s blessings? According to R. Akiva, who blesses the kohanim?
 The gemara raises the latter question and says that the kohanim are covered by the rule that “I will bless those who bless you [Avraham’s offspring]” (Bereishit 12:3). The Iyun Yaakov (on the gemara) asks the former question and answers that after Hashem blesses the kohanim, they are worthy enough for their blessings to be sufficiently effective.
 While R. Yishmael and R. Akiva explain the p’sukim differently, based on potentially different philosophical approaches, they share an important idea. What gives the kohanim their greatness and brings them blessing? It is the fact that they are involved in blessing the nation. In the eyes of R. Akiva, it is natural that one who blesses those who should be blessed are themselves blessed. The kohanim, who are involved in blessing on an ongoing, deep basis are profoundly elevated. It is the blessed who need to be helped by the further Divine blessing that the pasuk refers to. According to R. Yishmael, Hashem blesses the blessers so that they will not lose out on a beracha and so that their beracha will be fully effective. He agrees that the one who blesses receives a most profound, Divine blessing as part of the process.
It is not for us to decide who is right, R. Yishmael or R. Akiva, and each speaks a perspective of truth. The gemara (Nedarim 35b) tries to determine whether kohanim act as agents of Hashem or of Bnei Yisrael. This may be connected to the differing views. But clearly, the kohanim connect between the two, and the question is which side they start with. They thus have a special status, privileges and obligations. May all who help create a bridge between Hashem and His nation be blessed as a result, as the kohanim are.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois
 in loving memory of Max and Mary Sutker and Louis and Lillian Klein,z”l.
May their memory be a blessing!

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