Thursday, June 04, 2009

birchas kohanim - part I

(I want to get away from the previous topic!) Parshas Naso contains the formula and mitzvah of birchas kohanim (6:22-27), but at least according to Rashi this is not the first appearance of birchas kohanim in the Torah. In Parshas Shmini, immediately after describing the inaugural avodah of korbanos performed by Aharon, the Torah tells us that Aharon blessed the Jewish people (VaYikra 9:22). Rashi reads that blessing as a reference to birchas kohanim.

Ramban is somewhat dissatisfied with this approach. If Rashi is correct, why seperate the mitzvah and formula of birchas kohanim found in our parsha from the description in Parshas Shmini? Why not place both in one parsha?

I think at least part of the answer lies in the relationship between birchas kohanim and avodah/tefilah. While we never find birchas kohahim recited outside the context of tefilah, it nonetheless is counted as an independent mitzvah. The difficulty of conceiving of b"k as a separate entity is underscored by the question of the Keren Orah (Sotah 38): Given that tefilah may not be a mitzvah, and even if it is a mitzvah to daven once daily, that one prayer can be recited even at night when birchas kohanim may not be said, when and how is the independent mitzvah of birchas kohanim to be fulfilled? The Keren Orah writes an amazing chiddush that the pasuk of "v'nikdashti b'toch Bnei Yisrael" obligates a tzibur to gather for the purpose of sanctifying G-d's name by hearing birchas kohanim!

Perhaps the Torah deliberately created two separate parshiyos of birchas kohanim to reflect this dual identity of the mitzvah: Parshas Naso treats the bracha as a mitzvah in its own right; Parshas Shmini records the bracha as a part of avodah, or as we fulfill it, a part of tefilah.


  1. Anonymous8:09 AM

    see the tos yomtov in end of mishna on 38. maybe ramban kearns mishna kpshuto and rashi learns like the chiddush of tos yomtov

  2. anon19:46 AM

    I remember R'Twersky making the point (based on the famous R'Chaim in hilchos Tefilah) that even the Ramban who holds that tefilah is not a daily mitzvah min hatorah (though he may be modeh that it is be-eis tzrah) would agree that daily tefilah has a kiyum of avodas hatzibur by the fact that birchas kohanim requires avodas hatzibur and we duchen in davenning. Thus, even if davenning is not a mitzvah min hatorah, it still has a kiyum of avodas hatzibur allowing bircahs kohanim.

  3. >>>would agree that daily tefilah has a kiyum of avodas hatzibur by the fact that birchas kohanim requires avodas hatzibur and we duchen in davenning.

    The Keren Orah's cites this same chiddush in the name of his brother but rejects it.

  4. Barzilai4:38 PM

    Reb Tzvi Pesach Frank says that Aharon independently was inspired by the kedusha of the day and love for Klal Yisrael to invent and say birchas kohanim, and Hashem ratified his words by making them the eternal words of duchening, Hiskim ahl yado.

  5. where is this r' t. p. frank found and even more importantly, how are you feeling?

  6. Reb TPF's pshat is in his Har Tzvi in Vayikra 9:22, and thanks, I'm feeling fine but more than a little chastened.

  7. hana'l1:27 AM

    It's a marvelous pshat, but after thinking about it, you have to wonder how much of Aharon's Bracha was "his own" and how much was divinely inspired, just as the Shira ahl hayam was divinely inspired. If, lehavdil, Bilaam's Mah Tovu is seen as worthy of including in our tefilla, then it must be because Hashem used him as an unwitting instrument, certainly that can be the case with Aharon's bracha.