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It’s All in Their Merit

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In the Torah portion of Nasso we find the blessing of the Kohanim.[1] This article discusses how these blessings correspond to the three patriarchs as well as a custom that is connected to this matter.

In the Merit of the Patriarchs

The Midrash asks,[2] “How did the Jews merit the priestly blessing?” We received it, says the Midrash, in the merit of the three Patriarchs. The Midrash derives it from the fact that it says the word כה (“thus,” “there” or “so”) concerning the blessing of the Kohanim (Numbers 6:23) which is the same word used concerning each of the Patriarchs.
·        Concerning Avraham it says, כֹּ֥ה יִֽהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ – “So will be your seed.”[3]
·        Concerning Yitzchak it says וַֽאֲנִ֣י וְהַנַּ֔עַר נֵֽלְכָ֖ה עַד־כֹּ֑ה – “The lad (Yitzchak) and I will go until there.”[4]
·        Concerning (the descendants of) Yaakov it says כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לְבֵ֣ית יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב – “Soshall you say to the house of Yaakov.”[5]

The First Blessing in the Merit of Avraham

The Ba’al HaTurim explains how the three blessings recited by the Kohanim correspond to each of the three patriarchs:
The first blessing, ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ יְבָֽרֶכְךָ֥ – “May G-d bless you and watch over you” corresponds to Avraham concerning whom the Torah uses a similar expression of blessing – וַה בֵּרַ֥ךְ אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּכֹּֽל – “G-d blessed Avraham with everything.”[6]
·        The three words in this blessing correspond to the three Divine blessings Avraham received.[7]

The Second Blessing in the Merit of Yitzchak

The second blessing, יָאֵ֨ר ה פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ – May the G-d cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you is in the merit of Yitzchak. This blessing – that G-d will shine His countenance upon us, corresponds to Yitzchak who, when his soul expired (from fright) on the altar, was brought back to life by G-d who “brightened his eyes.”[8]
·        The second blessing begins with the word יָאֵ֨ר (shine) which is the same letters as ראי. This alludes to Yitzchak who was considered an  עולת ראיה(a pilgrimage offering brought upon “seeing G-d”).
·        The blessing contains 20 letters and 5 words, correspondint to the fact that Yitzchak was born after 20 generations from Adam and that he observed the 5 Books of Moshe.

The Third Blessing in the Merit of Yaakov

The third blessing begins with the words יִשָּׂ֨א ה פָּנָיו֙ – “May G-d lift His Countenance.” This recalls the merit of Yaakov about whom it says וַיִּשָּׂ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב רַגְלָ֑יו – “Yaakov lifted his feet (to travel to Charan).”[9] The blessing ends with the words וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם – “And I will grant you peace.” Similarly Yaakov said,  וְשַׁבְתִּ֥י בְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑י – “I will return in peace to my father’s home.”[10]
·        The seven words in the third blessing correspond to the seven years during which all of the tribes (with the exception of Binyamin) and Dinah were born.[11]
·        The 25 letters in this blessing correspond to G-d’s saying, כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לְבֵ֣ית יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב“So shall you say to the house of Yaakov.” (The numerical value of כֹּ֤ה is 25.)

Even if We Don’t (Personally) Deserve It

The Yefei To’ar (on the Midrash Rabbah) explains that the reason the Midrash feels the need to explain in what merit we deserve the blessing of the Kohanim is because this blessing is unusual in two ways. Firstly, the blessing is given by the kohanim even if they are not particularly righteous. In fact, even if they are sinners, they may give this blessing (with some exception).[12] Secondly, the blessing is received by all of the Jewish people – including the sinners among us. The fact that we descend from the holy patriarchs is what enables these blessings to reach us despite our deficiencies.
Meriting the Patriarch’s Merit
In addition, the Yefei To’ar points out, we have the merit of the patriarchs because we continue to follow their paths.

Specifically, even the sinners

·        Have belief in G-d – as Avraham did.
·        Are willing to die in order to sanctify G-d’s name – as Yitzchak was ready to do.
·        Fulfill (at least some parts) of the Torah that was accepted by the descendants of Yaakov.

Bizchut Avraham, Yitzchak VeYaakov

The above explanations help us understand the custom that some have to mention the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov during the blessing of the Kohanim that is recited by the Chazzan on a daily basis in Ashkenazi communities of the Diaspora.[13]
Specifically, after the first blessing the congregation says, כן יהי רצון בזכות אברהם אבינו – “So may be Your will in the merit of our patriarch Avraham.” After the second blessing the congregation says, כן יהי רצון בזכות יצחק אבינו – “So may be Your will in the merit of our patriarch Yitzchak.” And after the third blessing the congregation says, כן יהי רצון בזכות יעקב אבינו – “So may be Your will in the merit of our patriarch Yaakov.”
In some congregations, after the third blessing the congregation says כן יהי רצון בזכות יעקב ובזכות משה ואהרן יוסף ודוד – “So may be Your will in the merit of Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David.”[14]

Amen or Kein Yehi Ratzon

In some communities it is customary not to say Amen when the Chazzan recites this blessing but, rather to only say כן יהי רצון “Kein Yehi Ratzon/ So may be Your will” at the end of each of the three verses of blessings. (Some add, in the merit of Avraham etc. as explained above.) The reason for this is that the Chazzan is not actually blessing us with these words. Rather, he is recounting the blessing that the Kohanim are supposed to give us and is asking G-d to bless us with those same blessings.[15] In fact, some say[16] that it is forbidden to say “Amen” since doing so would indicate that one considers it as if the Chazzan were actually blessing us. This is improper since only a Kohen may deliver this blessing at that time. In addition, since one need not say Amen, it is forbidden to do so as one should not say Amen unnecessarily.[17]
Others have the custom to say Amen to these blessings even when it is the Chazzan reciting them. The Amen does not indicate that they consider the Chazzan to be reciting the blessing reserved for the Kohanim since he is not reciting the blessing in the manner done by the Kohanim, i.e., the Kohanim must face the people, lift their hands, say it in response to a Chazzan, etc..[18] Rather, the Amen is a request that G-d Himself bless us as the Kohanim usually do. This is the Chabad custom[19] as well as that of the Munkacher Rebbe.[20] According to Chabad and Munkach custom, only Amen is recited and not the כן יהי רצון etc.
In practice one should follow the custom of one’s community.[21]

Only if the Jews are Worthy

It is noteworthy that, although the Midrash (as interpreted above) indicates that the Jewish people receive the Kohanim’s blessing even if the congregation is not righteous, some say[22] that the Zohar disagrees with that view. As it says that the verse אָמ֖וֹר לָהֶֽם indicates that if we are not deserving, the blessing of the kohanim is just like an אמירה – a (powerless) statement and not a ברכה – a blessing. (Others interpret the Zohar to be referring to something else entirely.[23])
Holds up the World
According to the Midrash[24] the world stands in the merit of the blessings of the Kohen.

Special Time for Prayers

Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropolya taught[25] that there are three times which are especially auspicious for prayers to be accepted. These are when the ark is opened, when the Torah is lifted and during the blessing of the Kohanim. (While the kohanim are saying the words of the blessing one should focus on listening. Presumably, Rabbi Shimshon was referring to while the kohanim sing or while the Chazzan is prompting them.)
May we merit to all of the Divine blessings in the merit of our holy patriarchs!
[1] Numbers 6:22-27
[2] Bereishit Rabbah 43:8. I found many of the sources in this article in the Artscroll Mesorah Kleinman Edition of the Midrash Rabbah.
[3] Gen. 15:5
[4] Ibid 22:5
[5] Exodus 19:3. In the Midrash there are three opinions as to how we merit the blessings (whether it’s in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak or Yaakov). But, according to the commentaries, the opinions are not in dispute.
[6] Gen. 24:1
[7] These are found in ibid, 12:2 and 3 (וַֽאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔, וֶֽהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה: and וַֽאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רֲכֶ֔יךָ)
[8] See Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer, 31 where Rabbi Yehudah says, “When the sword reached Yitzchak’s neck, his soul expired. When G-d’s voice was heard between [the supernal] Keruvim saying, ‘Do not stretch your hand towards the child,’ his soul was returned to him.”
[9] Gen. 29:1
[10] Ibid 28:21
[11] See Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer, 36
[12] See O.C. 128:35-42
[13] Aruch HaShulchan 127:4. I am not sure why the merit of the patriarchs is not mentioned when the Kohanim actually give the blessing.
[14] Ben Ish Chai, Tetzaveh, ot 2, brought in Kaf HaChayim, 127:20
[15] Drisha, O.C. 127:1 based on the wording of the Rambam
[16] Mishmeret Shalom (Kaidinov) 10:8 and other sources brought in Piskei Teshuvot 127:4
[17] Drisha ibid
[18] Teshuvot VeHanhagot, cited in Piskei Teshuvot, 127, note 32
[19] Siddur HaRav, and Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad
[20] Darkei Chayim VeShalom, ot 179
[21] See Kaf HaChayim 127:17 citing the responsa of Yachin UBo’az.
[22] Parshat Nasso page 146a as interpreted by Rabbi Yonatan Binyamin Cohen in his Nefesh Yonatan on the verse.
[23] The Pirush Matok MiDvash says that the Zohar is referring to pronouncing the Tetragrammaton during the blessing of the Kohanim.
[24] Midrash Tehillim on Chapter 6 quoted in Kad HaKemach, entry Bracha
[25] Quoted in Eretz HaChaim by Rabbi Chaim Liberzohn of Berdichov, page 134
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorah!

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