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D’VAR TORAH BY: STEVEN KUSHNER

There are few texts from the Torah more ubiquitous, more universally invoked than Birkat Kohanim: the Priestly Benediction. We Jews use it all the time. At weddings. And bat mitzvahs. At preschool graduation ceremonies. At the Shabbat dinner table. Indeed, it has become an integral element of our liturgy incorporated into the conclusion of the Amidah as part of the Birkat Shalom, the prayer for peace. And within the non-Jewish world, the three-stanza blessing has come to be such a central part of the service that most worshipers presume it is indigenous to the Christian tradition. But it is not. It comes right from Parashat Naso (Numbers 6:24-26):

May the Eternal bless you and protect you!

May the Eternal’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you!

May the face of the Eternal lift up before you and grant you peace!

The words are familiar, are they not? They sound as if we have been hearing them all of our lives, because we have. And yet, as powerful as the words may be, as remarkably resonant even to the least religious among us, I wonder if we ever stop to consider what exactly the prayer is saying. Perhaps there is a reason for the broad popularity of this ancient text.

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