Parashat Naso

By Cantor Arnold Saltzman

In Parashat Naso the Priestly Benediction,
also known as Birkat Kohanim is set apart in a
very important manner, punctuated with spaces not
unlike the text for Shirat Hayam ‘ the Song at
the Red Sea – and the Ten Commandments.

The kohanim, the priests, have the power to
bless the people, and this power comes from God and
is channeled through the kohanim, going back
through Aaron and Moses, the Patriarchs, Noah, and
Adam and Chava to whom God gave the
blessing ‘Multiply on Earth.’ (Gen. 1:28) The power to
bless originates in God.

The Priestly Blessing is a three-fold blessing. Some
explain that there are three phrases in order to
remember the patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak and
Ya’akov, and that God blesses us because of their

The first blessing begins with ‘Y’varekhekha
may God bless you’ ‘ understood by one tradition to
refer to one’s possessions. If a person is lacking in
sustenance it is difficult to study Torah. In that
sense, we need the blessing of ‘parnasah‘ ‘
making a living.

The next part of the blessing prays that ‘
V’yishmerekha ‘ may God guard you,’
referring to God’s protecting our possessions. We are
blessed that our possessions be safe and be blessed
in this manner of protection, according to Rashi, ‘so
that bandits should not come against you to take
your property.’ God is both giver and

The second blessing begins with the
phrase, ‘Ya’er‘ ‘ May God’s Face shine. This
is a blessing that God may hear our prayers giving us
the ability to study and understand.

The third and final blessing begins ‘Yissa‘-
May God lift God’s Face. This is explained as a
blessing that God will notice you and guard

The blessings end with the prayer ‘ ‘V’yassem
l’kha shalom
‘ – and grant you peace. This is
interpreted to mean: May you be blessed with peace
both internally, with peace of mind, and externally,
by being free from being harmed by others.

Rashi comments on the introductory injunction to this
set of blessings: ‘Say it to them’ (Numbers 6:23)-
say it to them so that all will hear. The rabbinic
midrash comments that Aaron and his sons are to
address the blessings to the Children of Israel in a
manner such that they should be able to hear them.
(Sifrei 39) Thus the blessings must be audible, but
they must also be spoken in an acceptable

These blessings are described by the Torah as ‘the
placing of God’s Name upon the people’ (Numbers
6:27). The tradition understands this to mean that
the kohanim should use the explicit name of
God, the Tetragammaton, for the blessing.
Furthermore, the blessing is based on the intention of
the one who blesses. The Talmud teaches that all
blessings must be offered with feelings of generosity.
(BTSotah 38b)

As we gather in synagogues and in our homes,
awaiting the blessing of the rabbis and
kohanim, we must also strive to prepare
ourselves spiritually to receive that blessing with a
generous spirit and emotion, so that God may
continue to bless us.