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P2. Cohanim to Bless God's People    [Make a Comment]

Cohanim (priests) are to pray blessing over God's people.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Numbers 6:22-27 (Maimonides RP26; Meir MP58; Chinuch C378)
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Speak to Aharon and his sons, and tell them that this is how you are to bless the people of Isra'el: you are to say to them, 'Y'varekh'kha ADONAI v'yishmerekha. [May ADONAI bless you and keep you.] Ya'er ADONAI panav eleikha vichunekka. [May ADONAI make his face shine on you and show you his favor.] Yissa ADONAI panav eleikha v'yasem l'kha shalom. [May ADONAI lift up his face toward you and give you peace.]' In this way they are to put my name on the people of Isra'el, so that I will bless them."

The Levitical Cohanim (Aaron and his sons) were commanded to bless the "People of Israel" (the Jewish People) who, at that time, were the only people group in covenant with God. The blessing (referred to today as the Birkat Cohanim or the Aaronic Benediction) was to be given using the exact words recorded in Numbers 6:24-26, the purpose of which was for the Cohanim to put God's Name on the Jewish People, thereby identifying whom God Himself would bless. Clearly, God did not need the Cohanim to tell Him who the Jewish People were, so the commandment was probably intended more as an impartation of authority, informing the Cohanim that what they declared on earth (in the way of blessing) would be made a reality in heaven - a concept that was to be reiterated years later by Messiah Yeshua (see Matthew 16:19 NKJ).

In the New Covenant, all believers in Yeshua are elevated to priests (Cohanim) under Yeshua (1 Peter 2:5-12) who, Scripture teaches, is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14; Revelation 1:4-6). Extrapolating from Numbers 6:22-27, I therefore conclude that, as was required of Aaron and his sons, we who are New Covenant Cohanim through our belief in Yeshua, are also required to pray blessing upon the Jewish People; and not only upon them, but also upon the newest "People of God" as well - all who believe in Yeshua - both Jews and non-Jews. And there is good biblical evidence that our responsibility to bless does not stop there, but extends even to the world's unbelievers through our bringing them the Good News of Yeshua and praying for their salvation (Matthew 9:36-38, 28:16-20; James 5:16; see also, Mitzvah # P1).

Although Hebrews 8:13 indicates that the Mosaic (Sinai) Covenant is diminishing and is in the process of vanishing, the Levitical Priesthood that was created by and operative under that Covenant is never said, in Scripture, to have already vanished. Without the Temple, today's Levitical Cohanim have few functions at best, but some of their former responsibilities continue both in synagogues and in contemporary Jewish life, including ceremonially blessing the Jewish People, receiving special aliyot to read from the Torah, and participating in the redemption of a Jewish family's firstborn son (Pidyon HaBen).

Today, blessing the Jewish People with the Birkat Cohanim continues as a part of many Synagogue services. In Orthodox Judaism, only Levitical Cohanim are allowed to minister the blessing, and other Jewish denominations handle it in a variety of ways. Within Messianic Judaism, it may be ministered by a Levitical Cohen (if one is available), but usually the Rabbi, Chazan (Cantor), or other officiating leader pronounces it over the congregation at the conclusion of a service, relying on his New Covenant priestly status. Since New Covenant priesthood is not limited to Jews, Gentile leaders of services are also free to minister it.

The matter of women leading services is controversial; in my opinion, women should not be in that position of authority, and should therefore not minister the Birkat HaCohanim. However, because New Covenant priesthood extends to women as well as to men, women's priestly responsibility to bless (through prayer and witness) the Jewish People, the New Covenant believers, and the unbelievers of the world, is the same as that of their male counterparts.

Commentators:
Maimonides says that Cohanim must bless Israel every day, but does not say it has to be with the Numbers 6:24-26 text. Meir does not say that the blessing must be given every day, but does say that it must be given during a service and the text in Numbers 6:24-26 must be used. HaChinuch concurs with Maimonides that the Cohanim must bless Israel every day, and gives many more particulars on how it is to be done. Two such particulars are that the blessing must be imparted just before Sim Shalom, and the Cohen delivering the blessing must position his hands in a certain way.

NCLA: JMo JFp KMo KFp GMo GFp (Birkat Cohanim)
JMm JFm KMm KFm GMm GFm (blessing through prayer and witness)

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