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D'var Torah by Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dr. Kalman Stein, Head of School

Dear Hebrew Academy Community:

As we all know, during Birkat Kohanim – the special blessing in this week’s Torah reading with which the Kohanim bless the rest of the nation - the Kohanim are required both to lift their hands and to face the people while declaring this blessing. 

Rav Asher Weiss notes that there is another context when we find this position – raised arms and faces turned towards one another. The Torah commands that the Keruvim—the cherubs—atop the Holy Ark in the Mishkan were to be fashioned with their wings stretched upwards, as though they hovered over the ark, and that they were face one another. Ran Weiss suggests that the position required of the Kohanim as they administer the Birkat Kohanim is designed to follow this same pattern.

If so, what is the symbolic meaning of outstretched, raised arms and faces turned directly towards one another? The wings, which point heavenward symbolize devotion to God. The requirement that they face one another, on the other hand, represents peace and fraternal love. The Keruvim looked at each other to express the ideal of care, concern, and affection for other people. The message which the Keruvim which stood in the Holy of Holies in both the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash, thus, is to instruct that holiness requires both elements: We must lift our “wings” heavenward, striving to build a meaningful relationship with God and committing ourselves unconditionally to observe all His commands, while at the same time facing our fellowman and living peacefully, harmoniously and compassionately with other people.

The Kohanim assume this same position when blessing Am Yisrael in order to teach us that blessing requires our unwavering commitment to both fundamental areas of Torah life: Our relationship to God and our relationship to each other. Birkat Kohanim, then, is not only a blessing, but also a challenge and calling, charging us to reinforce our commitment to the Almighty and our commitment to one another as a precondition for our becoming worthy of God’s blessings.

Dr. Kalman Stein
Head of School

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