I  love the Birkat HaKohanim, the priestly blessing from the Torah. I love singing it in Hebrew and then in English to the same melody, to ensure that everyone can understand the beautiful blessings.

I love that Leonard Nimoy used it when he developed his character for the TV show Star Trek, fashioning both the hand gesture and the greeting (“live long and prosper”) from his boyhood experiences in synagogue.

And I particularly love my congregation’s custom of gathering together for the blessing at our Shabbat morning services, sheltering each other under our tallitot (prayer shawls) and pausing for a few moments of private blessings to each other. In the summer months when we have a smaller group we often gather in a circle and pass blessings around the room.

As often happens in the Torah, God tells Moses to tell Aaron to take on the task: “God spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus shall you bless the people of Israel, Say to them:

May God bless you and protect you.
May God deal kindly and graciously with you.
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.

Thus they shall link my name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27)

The words “speak” and “say” appear an astonishing five times in the introductory sentence. Clearly, this blessing is meant to be transmitted orally. And it may be mere coincidence, but the sentence (which is counted as two verses in the Bible) consists of 18 words. In the Jewish tradition, the number 18 signifies life.

The three lines of the blessing itself are much shorter and even more poetic in the Hebrew. Each line is slightly longer than the preceding one: three words, then five words, then seven words, with the divine name appearing as the second word in each line. Here it is in Hebrew:

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ
יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וִיחֻנֶּֽךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶֽיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

As we no longer have a priestly class to bestow such blessings upon us, modern Judaism has given the clergy that privilege, usually at the High Holidays and festivals, and in some synagogues at every Shabbat service.

For my part, I am delighted that my congregation has democratized the practice even further, empowering each of us to give these blessings to one another. My blessing for us and for all congregations is that we continue to do so, knowing we are communities that share the blessings of love and caring, peace and joyful support.


Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock on Star Trek