This Parsha is host to the priestly blessing that begins with the word Yivarechecha. This fifteen-word blessing is familiar to us, being used on many occasions. In the diaspora, during the five yearly holidays, at the Musaf prayer, the Kohanim – priests – ascend the Duchan and bless the people. They begin by spreading their arms forward and separating their fingers in a certain fashion. They then recite a blessing before performing this mitzvah. The blessing declares that they are invested with the holiness stemming from Aaron, and are commanded to bless the nation of Israel, B’Ahava – with love.
The Chazan then calls out the first word Yivarechecha and the Kohanim respond by repeating the word. This format goes on for all fifteen words of the blessings. The Kohanim are the conduits through which G-d imparts these blessings on the nation.
We also say this priestly blessing each morning immediately after we recite our personal blessings on the privilege of studying Torah.
Throughout the year, during the Chazan’s repetition of the Amida during the morning and Mussaf prayers, he recites the priestly blessing.
Traditionally, on Friday nights before the Shabbat meal begins, parents bless their children with this blessing. Parents give this blessing to their children on Yom Kippur eve as well.
In certain communities this blessing is conveyed to a baby after his Bris.
A first-born boy, after thirty days, is redeemed by his father from the Kohain with five silver coins. During the ceremony the Kohain recites the priestly blessing upon the child.
The final word of the blessing is Shalom – peace. Commentators explain that it is the blessing of Shalom that wraps up all the blessings and indicates that all blessings are helpless unless Shalom exists.
It is also quite befitting for the priestly blessing to include Shalom because every Kohain is a descendant of Aaron and the Mishna teaches us that Aaron excelled in bringing peace between disputants which he did in very creative ways. Aaron did this because he loved when peace prevailed.
We mentioned above that the Kohanim conclude their preliminary blessing with the word, B’Ahava – with love. Having love for all those in the congregation is integral and a prerequisite for a Kohain to ascend the Duchan. If there is someone present who he is at odds with, he may not ascend and bless the congregation. To give the blessing of peace one must uphold it as well.
The Priestly blessings is not the only blessing that ends with Shalom. The final blessing of the Amida is also Shalom. Also, when we take three steps back at the end of the Amida and at the end of reciting Kaddish we end with Oseh Shalom. At the conclusion of Benching – Grace after meals – we also recite Oseh Shalom.
Our sages tell us that when Shalom exists between a couple G-d’s holy presence is present in the home. This is not surprising because one of G-d’s names is Shalom!
Reb Tzodok Hakohain o.b.m. offers a stunning insight into the blessing of Shalom. He says the ultimate Shalom is when one is at peace with himself. When one is able to steer away from the internal negative impulses of the evil inclination, one establishes a harmony of inner peace!
Ben Zoma in Ethics of our Fathers asks; “Who is rich?” Ben Zoma unexpectedly answers, “Someone who is happy with what he has.”
This means that someone who is fabulously wealthy can actually be considered poor, whereas someone who has a small amount of money can be considered rich. It all depends on their mindset – whether or not they are satisfied with their lot and at peace with themselves.
Rabbi Noach Weinberg o.b.m. would ask his college age students, “Would you sell me your eyes for 10 million dollars?” When the students would answer in the negative, he would say, “So you should know that you are a multimillionaire. Look at the gift Hashem has given you!”
Rabbi Weinberg would continue, suppose you were notified that you won the mega jackpot and you were on the way to pick up the hundred-million-dollar check, and as you are driving someone cut you off on the road; would you get angry and begin screaming at the guy? No, because you are a multimillionaire and smiling from ear to ear and no one is going to get you down.
“Well, we should all act this way. G-d has given us gifts worth millions of dollars. That is surely something to always smile about and prevent anyone from getting you down, whatever they may do to you!”
In fact, each morning we recite a list of blessings recognizing each of the priceless functions and gifts that G-d has endowed to our bodies. It’s as if we are going through our personal portfolio and counting each of our blessings! All the more reason to smile and be ever so grateful!