Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. - Leviticus 9:22
The Torah portion for this week is Shemini, which means "eighth," from Leviticus 9:1-11:47, and the Haftorah is from 2 Samuel 6:1-19.
Last week, during the holiday of Passover, an amazing event took place at the Western Wall. Twice a year, on the holidays of Passover and Sukkot, more than 30,000 worshipers crowd the Western Wall plaza as Jews from all over the world receive the priestly blessing.
In this week's Torah portion, the priests assumed their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel. Today, more than 3,000 years later, many Jews can still trace their family lineage all the way back to Aaron. These priests, kohanim in Hebrew, recite the priestly blessing even today and bless the nation of Israel. Nothing like this has been seen on such a magnitude since the Temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago. It is quite a sight to behold!
The first time we see a priest blessing the children of Israel is in this week's Torah portion. We read, "Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them." The Jewish sages note that while this practice became a foundational tradition in the Jewish faith, there is no place in the Bible where the priests are actually commanded to bless the nation. Later, in Numbers 6, the priests were told how to bless the people: "This is how you are to bless the Israelites . . ." (v. 23). They were given the words of the blessing: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace" (v. 24-26). However, the priests were never given a directive from God or Moses to bless the nation of Israel.
The sages offer an explanation for why this is so. A blessing, by its very nature, must come from the heart. In order for a blessing to have power and influence, it must stem from a place of love, not an obligation.
Friends, we in Israel cherish your blessings in every form that they come - be they in prayer, in charity, or in working on behalf of the people of Israel. We believe deeply in Genesis 12:3 where God promises: "I will bless those who bless you . . ." However, we humbly request that as you bless Israel, also love Israel. The greater your love for Israel, the greater your blessing will be. Don't just bless Israel because you know it's the right thing to do; bless Israel because it's what God has laid on your heart to do. As you bless Israel with love, may God bless you in return with His everlasting love.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President