The Priestly Blessing. I have never met anyone who doesn’t want to be blessed. People will spend vast amounts of money and travel worldwide to receive a blessing from a holy person or spiritual site. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, there is also a more accessible, God-given way to experience divine blessing.
Again Adonai spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying: Thus you are to bless Bnei-Yisrael, by saying to them: Adonai bless you and keep you! Adonai make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! Adonai turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!’ In this way they are to place My Name over Bnei-Yisrael, and so I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:23-27)
Initially commanded by God for the Kohanim (priests, descendants of Aaron), in the time of the Temple, this blessing was performed twice daily, after the morning offering and the afternoon offering. Today, at least in Israel, it is performed daily in Synagogue prayers. When parents bless their children every Friday night, they also use this blessing. The Rabbi Chaim David Azulai wrote that one should use the Birkat Kohanim instead of traditional farewells, such as “goodbye.” Why? Virtually every other blessing found in the Bible is conditional. This blessing, by contrast, comes with the guarantee that if one will pronounce it over someone, then God Himself will bless them.
People also refer to the Birkat Kohanim as the “threefold” blessing. It is three blessings rolled into a single prayer. It opens with, “Adonai bless you and keep you.” The Rabbis teach that the first word, translated “bless you” (Yevarechecha in Hebrew), covers all of one’s material needs. God knows what we need materially, usually better than we do, and this part of the prayer addresses those needs. Then we have the ineffable name of God invoked as the one doing it.
It is essential to know who exactly is the one blessing us. The person speaking—be it priest, friend, or parent—is not blessing; they pronounce the blessing. The one blessing is YHVH, as it says in verse 27, “In this way they are to place My Name over Bnei-Yisrael, and so I will bless them” (emphasis added). It is also why the ineffable Name is in every line of the blessing.
The name YHVH is critical because it represents the God who is outside of time. He is simultaneously the God who was, the God who is, and the God who will be. God’s name declares that He has already been to your today and all of your tomorrows. Not only does He know what we think we need right now, but what we will need tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Part of the power of that very first word is its scope and why it doesn’t bless us with any specific thing. This blessing aligns us with the God who knows all our needs—present and future—and wants to bless us in all of them.
The next word, Ve’Yishmerecha, is often translated as “and keep you.” The Hebrew word shamar can mean to keep, but it can also mean “to guard.” Here, the blessing subtly (but not wholly) starts to shift from the physical to the spiritual. God’s protection certainly is from physical harm, but it is also from spiritual harm. Thus, God’s blessing protects us.
That brings us to the second line, “Adonai make His face to shine on you.” This statement is a profound one. In Exodus 33, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, he was only permitted to see the backside of God, as the full glory of God’s shining face would be too much for him. Here though, we are blessing a person with the full shining of God’s face. The person receives the blessing of the full glory and loving-kindness of God. There really can be no more incredible blessing than to stand in the full light and favor the Lord’s countenance. That is a place of blessing that so many long for, an experience readily offered through the Birkat Kohanim.
Then we have, “be gracious to you.” The leading Biblical Hebrew Lexicon gives the meaning as, “be gracious, yearn towards, long for, be merciful, compassionate, favorable, inclined towards.” So yes, “be gracious to you” definitely fits, but there is so much more that this Hebrew word (chen) conveys. It speaks of “being blessed in all that God would yearn for you, long for you, be merciful to you, be compassionate to you, give you His favor, and be inclined toward you.” The last two phrases in that list are that,
you will have God’s favor, and
that He will take your side.
A friend of mine likes to say, “Favor is not fair.“
Now we turn to the last line, “Adonai turn His face toward you.” Upon closer examination, we might ask why we said that God would make his face shine upon us in the previous line, and now we are asking for God to turn his face toward us. The Rabbis have said that line refers to sinning and distancing ourselves from God. This line of blessing states that God will turn His face toward us, even in our fallen state.
Again, we need to reference Exodus 34, when Moses received the fullness of God’s mercy from the backside of God. Today in the Synagogue, it is recited twice per day during the morning and afternoon confessions to assure we receive repentance. If this sort of mercy is experienced from the backside of God, how much more can we expect from the fullness of His countenance?
Finally, “and grant you shalom!” The word shalom (quoting the Brown, Driver, and Briggs Lexicon) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” We need to understand this definition both on its own and in the context of the previous clause regarding God turning toward us even in our sin. As much, possibly even more than life’s circumstances, sin leaves us broken and spiritually sick. In this line, we have the blessing—and in a sense, God’s promise—to make us whole again. A God-given promise to make us spiritually well even in our lowest state. Friends, can you imagine how much more will we be blessed when we are doing well spiritually?
Three simple lines.
In Hebrew, only fifteen words. Incredibly short, yet extremely potent.
With this depth of insight, one can understand why this is practically the only prayer one would ever need anyone to pray over them. Adding in God’s own biblical promise to fulfill it unconditionally, the Birkat Kohanim is a prayer that we should all yearn to have prayed over us as often as possible.
Doede Donaugh (verified owner) –
Beautiful! In print, and in your heart.
Christiana Karikari –
The LORD bless me and keep me