“The Lord bless you and keep you… the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you… the Lord look with favour upon you and grant you peace…”
What a privilege it is for the kohanim to utter the Divine benediction. We non-kohanim thrill to hear them pronounce the ancient words. Some of us even wish that we could participate in the mitzvah. But not even if we are rabbis can we act as kohanim and if we yearn to bestow the blessing on a bride and groom or a Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah we have to preface it with a sentence such as “May you be granted the threefold blessing of the Children of Aaron…”
Possibly one or two of us have wondered why the blessing was reserved for the priests. What did the kohanim do to deserve the privilege other than be born to a priestly father?
The first thing that must be said is that the blessing is not a personal gift from the kohanim as individuals. They are merely a conduit. The rabbis tell us, “It is not the priests who bless Israel; Scripture says, ‘I (God) will bless them’ (verse 27)”.
Nonetheless the kohen has to be worthy of his task. The philosopher Philo said, “The most indispensable element in a priest is piety”. Malachi says, “The law of truth is in his mouth. He walks with Me in peace and righteousness and turns many away from iniquity” (Mal. 2:6).
The ideal kohen has the virtue of personal piety and descends from pious lineage. If there is a kohen about whom these words are in doubt, he can do something about it – not to try to opt out but to become worthier and raise up future generations who will be worthy of their privilege.