It may be coincidental that the newest Star Trek movie has come outthis weekend as we read Parashat Naso. You may wonder why I bring up Star Trek, but they are related.
In the original Star Trek, Leanord Nimoy, who played Spock, would always say “Live Long and Prosper” while making a specific gesture with his hands. Nimoy was a Kohen and an observant Jew. The symbol Nimoy used is actually the hand symbol a Kohen makes when blessing the congregation in the Birkat Kohanim, or Priestly Blessing, we find in this week’s Torah portion.
Nothing is more majestic than the Priestly Blessing. It is a very powerful set of verses that help bring meaning to my daily prayers, as well as when I bless my sons each Friday night. However, this prayer can mean so much more. While I living in Israel, I discovered the ritual of Duchaning when the Kohanim (daily in Israel) bestow the Priestly Blessing upon the congregation. It is incredibly powerful while being covered in a tallit, being blessed by the Kohanim (bat Kohanim, too, of course, since we are egalitarian). It became the highlight of each day.
It is an amazing sight to see and most of all to feel the strength of being blessed like Jews have been since the days of Aaron and his sons. At first blush it may seem foreboding but, once experienced, truly moving, and you will find yourself looking forward to the next time the Kohanim duchan on the festivals and High Holy Days in the Diaspora.
The reason we refer to it as duchaning is because the Kohanim stand on the duchan or what you and I refer to as the bimah. After the Kedushah in the Amidah, the Kohanim will have their hands ritually washed by the Leviim. The Kohanim cover their heads with their tallitot, face the Holy Ark and begin the blessing that thanks God for the privilege of being charged with the responsibility of blessing the people in God’s name. The leader of the service (Shaliach Tzibbur) calls out in a loud voice “Kohanim”, and they turn to face the congregation shrouded (head and hands covered) in their tallitot, hands raised upwards to begin the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26.
During the course of the blessing, the Kohanim’s covered hands are spread out over the congregation in a prescribed manner. Tradition states that the Divine Presence would shine through the fingers of the priests, and no one was allowed to look out of respect for God. The Shaliach Tzibbur will slowly and melodiously recite each word of the blessing and the Kohanim will repeat them.
The congregation remains standing in front of the Kohanim with our tallitot over our heads, and parents bring their children (young and old) underneath to receive the blessing all the while forming an indelible childhood memory. During this entire time the Kohanim, and in most cases the congregation, recite an extended musical chant (you will pick it up instantly) without words as the Kohanim pause to audibly repeat each of the words. While this ritual may seem strange or out of the ordinary, it is one that I can assure you has the potential to bring great meaning to each individual and our congregation as a whole. I would like for us to consider implementing this more meaningful ritual, perhaps as soon as Rosh Hashanah.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham