SALT - Wednesday, 8 Cheshvan 5780 - November 6, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in the opening verses of Parashat Lekh-Lekha the promises God made to Avraham when commanding him to leave his homeland and settle in Canaan.  After promising to produce a great nation from his descendants and to grant him fame, God then said, “I shall bless those who bless you” (12:3).  Chizkuni explains that this promise was made to allay Avraham’s fears that he would have no peers or supporters in Canaan.  God assured Avraham that He would bestow blessing upon those who assist him, such that he would earn the friendship and support of many people.
            Ba’al Ha-turim, interestingly enough, finds an allusion in this phrase to birkat kohanim – the blessing with which the kohanim bless the rest of the nation.  The Torah writes in Sefer Bamidbar (6:27) that God promises that after the kohanim bless Benei Yisrael, “I shall bless them,” and Rashi brings an interpretation that this refers to God’s blessing the kohanim.  In reward for the kohanim blessing Benei Yisrael, God will then bless the kohanim.  And so Ba’al Ha-turim creatively suggests that when God promises Avraham, “I shall bless those who bless you,” this refers, or alludes, to God’s blessing those among Avraham’s descendants who bless the other descendants – meaning, the kohanim, who bless the rest of the nation.  Ba’al Ha-turim determined that the phrase “va-avarekha mevarekhekha” (“I shall bless those who bless you”) has the same gematria (numerical value) as the Hebrew phrase, “there will be kohanim blessing your descendants.”
            Why might have Ba’al Ha-turim found an allusion to birkat kohanim in God’s initial prophecy to Avraham, when He informed Avraham of the special nation that he would produce?
            Perhaps the Ba’al Ha-turim’s comments teach that one of the intended defining characteristics of our nation is that we “bless” one another, we wish for each other’s wellbeing, we pray for one another, and we encourage and support one another.  The institution of birkat kohanim, whereby the special tribe designated for a unique spiritual stature blesses the rest of the nation each day, powerfully expresses the notion that the different groups among Am Yisrael are not in competition or in conflict with one another, but rather are to aim to serve and assist one another.  The kohanim’s stature is not intended to detach them from the rest of the nation, but rather for them to serve the rest of the nation, to work towards elevating them, helping them and inspiring them.  By finding an allusion to birkat kohanim in God’s initial prophecy to Avraham, Ba’al Ha-turim might be indicating that this institution reflects one of the fundamental qualities of Am Yisrael – that we are all to look out for and encourage one another, to see our fellow Jew as a member of our own “team” with whom we seek to work together, and not against whom we seek to compete.