Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone
Shabbat, 9 Adar 5775 / February 28, 2015
Today

Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Rambam - 1 Chapter a Day

Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim - Chapter Fourteen

E-mail
Video & Audio Classes
Show content in:

Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim - Chapter Fourteen

Halacha 1

In the morning, Musaf, and Ne'ilah services, the priests recite the priestly blessing. They do not recite the priestly blessing in the Minchah service, because, by the time of the Minchah service, all the people have eaten. The possibility exists that the priests would have drunken wine, and it is forbidden to recite the priestly blessing while intoxicated.

Even on a fast day, the priestly blessings are not recited during the Minchah service. This decree [was instituted,] lest [people fail to differentiate between] the Minchah service of a fast day and the Minchah service of an ordinary day.

Halacha 2

When does the above apply? On fast days when both Minchah and Ne'ilah are recited - i.e., Yom Kippur and communal fasts [declared because of distress]. However, on a fast day on which Ne'ilah is not recited - e.g., Tish'ah B'Av or the seventeenth of Tammuz - since the Minchah service is recited close to sunset, it resembles Ne'ilah and will not be confused with an ordinary Minchah service. Therefore, the priestly blessing is recited during it.

If a priest transgressed and ascended to the platform during the Minchah service of Yom Kippur, since it is known that there is no possibility of drunkenness on that day, he may recite the priestly blessing, and he is not required to descend because of the suspicion [that might be aroused], so that people do not say, "He is of blemished lineage. Therefore, they forced him to descend."

Halacha 3

How is the priestly blessing recited outside the Temple? When the leader of the congregation reaches the blessing R'tzey, when he recites the word R'tzey all the priests in the synagogue leave their places, proceed forward, and ascend the duchan.

They stand there, facing the heichal, with their backs to the congregation. They hold their fingers closed, against their palms, until the leader of the congregation completes the blessing Modim. [Then,] they turn their faces to the people, spread out their fingers, lift up their hands shoulder high, and begin reciting, Y'varechecha....

The leader of the congregation reads [the blessing] to them, word for word, and they respond after him [as can be inferred from Numbers 6:23: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel:] 'Say to them...;’” [i.e., the priests do not bless until one] "says to them."

When [the priests] conclude the first verse, all the people answer "Amen." The leader of the congregation reads [the priests] the second verse, word for word, and they respond after him until they complete the second verse. The people respond "Amen." The same applies regarding the third verse.

Halacha 4

When the priests conclude the recitation of [these] three verses, the leader of the congregation begins the final blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, Sim shalom. The priests turn their faces to the ark and close their fingers. They remain standing on the duchan until the leader of the congregation concludes the blessing, [and then] return to their places.

Halacha 5

The person who calls the priests is not permitted to call to the priests until the Amen of the community is no longer heard. The priests are not permitted to begin reciting the blessing until the statement of the person who calls the priests is no longer heard.

The congregation should not respond "Amen" until the blessing of the priests is no longer heard. The priests may not begin another blessing until the Amen of the community is no longer heard.

The leader of the congregation is not allowed to recite Amen to the priests' blessings like the rest of the people, lest he become confused and not realize which blessing to recite to them, whether the second blessing or the third blessing.

Halacha 6

The priests are not permitted to turn their faces away from the congregation until the leader of the congregation begins [the blessing] Sim shalom. Neither may the priests leave their places until the leader of the congregation concludes [the blessing] Sim shalom, nor may they close their fingers until they turn their faces from the community.

One of the measures ordained by Ezra is that the priests should not ascend to the duchan wearing sandals. Rather, they should stand barefoot.

Halacha 7

When the priests bless the people, they should not look at them or divert their attention. Rather, their eyes should be directed towards the earth like one standing in prayer.

A person should not look at the priests' faces while they are blessing the people, lest they divert their attention. Rather, all the people should listen attentively to the blessing; they should [stand] face to face with the priests, without looking at their faces.

Halacha 8

If only one priest is blessing the people, he should begin reciting the blessing alone. [Afterwards,] the leader of the congregation reads [the blessings] to him, word for word, as mentioned.

If there are two or more [priests blessing the people], they do not begin reciting the blessing until the leader of the congregation calls them, saying "Kohanim." They answer and respond Y'varechecha, and then he reads [the blessings] to them, word for word, in the manner described above.

Halacha 9

How is the priestly blessing recited in the Temple? The priests ascend to the duchan after the priests have completed the service associated with the morning sacrifice offered daily. They lift their hands above their heads with their fingers extended, except the High Priest. He does not lift his hands above the tzitz.

One person reads [the blessings] to them, word for word, in the same manner as outside the Temple, until they complete the three verses. The people do not respond ["Amen"] after each verse. Instead, in the Temple, [the priestly blessings] are read as a single blessing. When [the priests] conclude, all the people respond, "Blessed be God, the Lord, the Lord of Israel to all eternity."

Halacha 10

They recite [God's] name - i.e., the name י-ה-ו-ה , as it is written. This is what is referred to as the "explicit name" in all sources. In the country, it is read [using another one of God's names]: אדני, for only in the Temple is this name [of God] recited as it is written.

After Shimon HaTzaddik died, the priests ceased reciting the [priestly] blessing using God's explicit name even in the Temple, lest it be learned by a person lacking proper stature and moral conduct. The Sages of the early generations would teach [this name] once in seven years, only to their students and sons [who had proven] their moral conduct. All this is in reverence for His great and awesome name.

Halacha 11

Wherever the priestly blessing is recited, it is recited only in the holy tongue, as [implied by Numbers 6:23]: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel."

We have learned the following [instructions] from the tradition [passed on] from Moses, our teacher, may he rest in peace:

"This is how you should bless" - while standing.
"This is how you should bless" - raising your hands.
"This is how you should bless" - in the holy tongue.
"This is how you should bless" - face to face.
"This is how you should bless" - in a loud voice.
"This is how you should bless" - mentioning [God's] explicit name; the latter [applying only] when one is in the Temple, as explained.

Halacha 12

Wherever [they recite the blessing], the priests are not permitted to add other blessings - e.g., "May God, Lord of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold" (Deuteronomy 11:11) - in addition to the three verses [of the priestly blessing]. [These additions may not be made] either silently or out loud, as [Deuteronomy 4:2] states: "Do not add to the matter."

While a priest is ascending to the duchan, he recites [the following prayer] when he leaves his place to ascend:

May it be Your will, God, our Lord and Lord of our fathers, that this blessing which You have commanded us to bless Your people, Israel, be a perfect blessing, that it not be marred by obstacles or iniquity, from now until eternity.

Before he turns to bless the community, [a priest] should recite the blessing:

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.

Afterwards, he turns his face to the community and begins reciting the priestly blessings. When he turns his face from the community after completing [the recitation] of the blessings, he recites [the following]:

We have carried out that which You have decreed upon us. Deal with us as You have promised us: Look down from Your abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people, Israel.

Halacha 13

When the priests turn their faces to the community to bless them, and when they turn their faces from the community after blessing [them], they should turn only to the right. Similarly, any turns which a person makes should always be to the right.

Halacha 14

In the Temple, the priestly blessing would be recited once a day, after the [offering of] the morning sacrifice. [The priests] come and stand on the steps to the Ulam and recite the blessing, as mentioned above. However, outside the Temple, it is recited after every prayer service, except Minchah, as explained.

In all places, an effort is made that the person who reads the blessing to the priests should be an Israelite, as [implied by Numbers 6:23]: "Say to them." This implies that the one who reads the blessing to them is not one of them.

Commentary Halacha 1

In the morning, Musaf, and Ne'ilah services - In Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Commandment 26), the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is for the priests to bless the people "every day." The Sages extended the scope of the requirement and obligated the priests to bless the people in all the above services (Ta'anit 26b).

The Ramah (Orach Chayim 128:44) writes:

It is customary in these countries to recite the priestly blessing only on holidays, when people are in festive and joyous spirits...
In contrast, on other days - even on Sabbaths - [the priests] are disturbed, worrying about earning a livelihood and the delay of work.
Even on holidays, the priestly blessing is recited only in the Musaf service, directly before the people leave the synagogue and rejoice in the holiday festivities.

The Ramah's decision is based on the view that the priestly blessings must be recited with feelings of joy and goodwill, and if those feelings cannot be aroused (see Zohar III 147a), it is proper that the blessing not be recited. Though the Ashkenazic community follows his view, in Egypt and in Eretz Yisrael the priests have always fulfilled the mitzvah of blessing the people every day. Many Ashkenazic authorities, among them Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rav Shlomo Kluger, desired to introduce this practice in the Ashkenazic community. However, they were not successful in doing so.

the priests - The Minchat Chinuch states, in the name of the Sefer HaCharedim, that just as it is a mitzvah for the priests to bless the people, it is a mitzvah for the people to be blessed. The Hafla'ah (Ketubot 24b) draws a parallel to the mitzvah of Yibbum which is incumbent on both the man and woman involved.

recite - Sefer HaMitzvot (loc. cit.) and Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 278) include this as one of the Torah's 613 mitzvot.

the priestly blessing. - Our translation of Nesiat Kapayim as "recite the priestly blessing" is not literal. The words actually mean "raise their hands," referring to the way the priests hold their hands while reciting these blessings, as mentioned in Halachah 3.

They do not recite the priestly blessing in the Minchah service, because, by the time of the Minchah service, all the people have eaten. - Here, we see an example of how a Rabbinic decree can prevent the fulfillment of a Torah commandment.

The possibility exists that the priests would have drunken wine, and it is forbidden to recite the priestly blessing while intoxicated. - Deuteronomy 10:8 describes how God designated the tribe of Levi "to stand before God, to serve Him and offer blessing in His name," establishing a equation between service in the Temple and the recitation of the priestly blessing. Accordingly, just as a priest is forbidden to serve in the Temple while intoxicated (Leviticus 10:9), he is also forbidden to recite the priestly blessings in such a state (Ta'anit, loc. cit.).

Even on a fast day - when there is no suspicion that the priests are drunk

the priestly blessings are not recited during the Minchah service. - See the following halachah for clarification.

This decree [was instituted,] lest [people fail to differentiate between] the Minchah service of a fast day and the Minchah service of an ordinary day. - Ta'anit (loc. cit.) records a difference of opinion on this question among the Sages. All the Sages agree that the priestly blessing is not recited during an ordinary Minchah. However, Rabbi Meir requires the priestly blessing to be recited on a fast day. On the other hand, Rabbi Yosse follows the view quoted by the Rambam. His position is accepted by the other Halachic authorities as well.

Commentary Halacha 2

When does the above apply? On fast days when both Minchah and Ne'ilah are recited - See Chapter 1, Halachah 7.

i.e., Yom Kippur and communal fasts [declared because of distress]. - See Ta'anit 1:4-7 and Hilchot Ta'aniot, Chapter 2, which describe the situations which warrant the declaration of a communal fast.

However, on a fast day on which Ne'ilah is not recited - e.g., Tish'ah B'Av or the seventeenth of Tammuz - i.e., fasts instituted to commemorate tragic events in our national history. These days are associated primarily with mourning. In contrast, the other fasts are days when we increase our supplication in an effort to evoke Divine mercy. For this reason, the Sages instituted the Ne'ilah prayer on these days alone (Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 579).

since the Minchah service is recited close to sunset, it resembles Ne'ilah - See Chapter 3, Halachah 6, which states: "The proper time of the Ne'ilah prayer is such that one completes it close to sunset."

and will not be confused with an ordinary Minchah service. - which is generally recited in the early afternoon, to afford people the opportunity to eat afterwards, since it is forbidden to eat a meal in the afternoon before reciting Minchah (Tosafot, Ta'anit, loc. cit.).

Therefore, the priestly blessing is recited during it. - Similarly, in Ashkenazic communities, when the priests do not recite the priestly blessings every day, the chazan should recite the blessing in his repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh.

If a priest transgressed and ascended to the platform during the Minchah service of Yom Kippur, since it is known that there is no possibility of drunkenness on that day, he may recite the priestly blessing - Because of this decision, in Ashkenazic communities the chazan recites the priestly blessings in his repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh during these days (Hagahot Ma'amoniot).

and he is not required to descend because of the suspicion [that might be aroused], so that people do not say, "He is of blemished lineage. Therefore, they forced him to descend." - i.e., it is feared that the people will suspect that his mother was a divorcee, and he is thus not able to serve as a priest.

Commentary Halacha 3

How is the priestly blessing recited outside the Temple? - i.e., in the synagogue prayer services. The recitation of the priestly blessing in the Temple is discussed in Halachah 9.

When the leader of the congregation reaches the blessing, R'tzey, when he recites the word R'tzey, all the priests in the synagogue leave their places - Sotah 38b states: "Any priest who does not ascend during the blessing R'tzey may not ascend afterwards. Later, the Talmud qualifies this statement to mean that a priest must leave his place in the synagogue during the blessing R'tzey.

proceed forward - reciting the short prayer mentioned in Halachah 12.

and ascend the duchan. - The term duchan refers to the steps before the heichal. (See the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah, Berachot 5:4.) This term has become associated with the recitation of the priestly blessing to the extent that reciting the blessing is often popularly referred to as duchaning.

In a synagogue where there are no steps before the ark, the priests still recite the blessings while standing before the ark.

They stand there, facing the heichal - the permanent ark; Chapter 11, Halachah 2.

with their backs to the congregation. They hold their fingers closed, against their palms - The Mishnah Berurah explains that the priests are not required to close their hands. The Rambam is merely clarifying that, at this point, they are not obligated to spread their hands, as they do when they bless the people.

until the leader of the congregation completes the blessing Modim. - The priestly blessing is recited at this point in the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh, as the preface to the blessing praising God for granting peace to our people.

[Then,] - they recite the blessing mentioned in Halachah 12, and

they turn - turning to the right (see Halachah 13).

their faces to the people - so the blessing will be recited face to face, as required by Halachah 11.

spread out their fingers - On the verse (Song of Songs 2:9), "peeking through the windows," Shir HaShirim Rabbah comments that the Divine Presence peeks through the windows between the priests' fingers. In particular, the Sages note that the word "the windows" (החרכים) can be broken up as follows: ה חרכים - "five windows," alluding to the unique manner in which the priests hold their hands while reciting the priestly blessing.

lift up their hands - Sotah 38a derives the obligation of the priests to raise their hands from Leviticus 9:22: "Aharon lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them."

shoulder high - Compare to the practice in the Temple mentioned in Halachah 9.

and begin, reciting y'varechecha... - This statement has raised questions among the commentaries. The Kiryat Sefer explains that the priests recite Y'varechecha - the first word of the priestly blessings - directly after concluding the blessing (see Halachah 12) recited before blessing the people, without being prompted by the reader. They take the initiative, so that an interruption is not made between the recitation of the blessing before the performance of a mitzvah and its actual performance.

Study of the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishnah (Berachot, loc. cit.) shows that the Rambam himself had questions about this matter. In the first manuscripts, the Rambam writes that "the leader of the congregation recites Y'varechecha, and the priests read after him." This is also the reading in the popularly published edition of that text. However, in the later manuscripts of the Commentary on the Mishnah (see Rav Kapach's edition of that text), the Rambam changes his mind and states that the priests begin reciting y'varechecha.

In his Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 128), Rav Yosef Karo mentions these different views, and in his Shulchan Aruch (128:13) rules that the priests begin on their own initiative. The Ramah differs and states that it is Ashkenazic practice that this word is also recited in response to the chazan.

The leader of the congregation reads [the blessing] to them, word for word, and they respond after him [as can be inferred - See the Sifre on the verse below.

from Numbers 6:23: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel:] 'Say to them...;’” [i.e., the priests do not bless until one] "says to them." - The fact that the priests merely repeat the blessing emphasizes the concept (Chapter 14, Halachah 7) that the blessing is God's, and the priests do no more than convey that blessing to the people (Kinat Eliyahu).

When [the priests] conclude the first verse, all the people answer "Amen." - The Kiryat Sefer states that responding "Amen" to the priestly blessings is an obligation from the Torah.

Note the difference between this law and the ruling when the chazan recites the priestly blessings in the absence of any priests (Chapter 15, Halachah 10). Note also the contrast to the people's response to the priestly blessings in the Temple, (Halachah 9).

The leader of the congregation reads [the priests] the second verse, word for word, and they respond after him until they complete the second verse. - The Ramah (loc. cit.:45) mentions the custom of the priests chanting during the recitation of the blessings. This practice is followed only on holidays. In Eretz Yisrael, the priests do not chant when the priestly blessing is recited on other days.

The people respond "Amen." The same applies regarding the third verse. - Berachot 55b states that a person who has a dream which requires explanation should stand before the priests when they bless the people. Accordingly, it is customary to recite a prayer regarding dreams during the priestly blessing. (See Shulchan Aruch loc. cit.; 130:1 and commentaries.)

Commentary Halacha 4

When the priests conclude the recitation of [these] three verses, the leader of the congregation begins the final blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, Sim Shalom. - After the priests promise that God will bless the people, it is appropriate that the chazan begin the blessing requesting peace, alluding to Psalms 29:11: "God will bless His people with peace" (Megillah 18a).

The priests turn - to the right (see Halachah 13), turning

their faces to the ark - See Halachah 6.

and close their fingers. - The priests are not allowed to close their fingers until they turn to face the ark (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:16). At this time, they recite a short prayer, as mentioned in Halachah 12.

They remain standing on the duchan until the leader of the congregation concludes the blessing, [and then] return to their places. - See Halachah 6.

Commentary Halacha 5

The person who calls the priests - As mentioned in Halachah 3, based on Numbers 6:23: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel: 'Say to them...,'” our Sages explained that before the priests bless the people, someone must "Say to them" - i.e., invite them to recite the blessing.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 128) states that the obligation to bless the people is not incumbent upon the priests until someone requests that they do so.

is not permitted to call to the priests until the Amen of the community is no longer heard. - Our translation follows the standard printed text of the Mishneh Torah, which reads לכהנים. Other texts read כהנים. This version translates as "The person who calls the priests is not permitted to call out, 'Kohanim'..."

These textual differences reflect a difference of interpretation. The standard text relates that the chazan should not begin reading the blessing to the priests until one no longer hears the Amen which the congregation recited in response to the blessing recited by the priests (Halachah 12) before blessing the people.

According to the texts which read כהנים, the halachah teaches us that the chazan should not call the priests until the Amen recited by the congregation in response to the blessing Modim can no longer be heard. Both opinions are accepted as halachah by the Shulchan Aruch and commentaries (Orach Chayim 128:18).

The priests are not permitted to begin reciting the blessing - either the blessing recited before blessing the people, or the priestly blessing itself, depending on the above interpretations.

until the statement of the person who calls the priests - either Y'varechecha or Kohanim, according to the respective interpretations.

is no longer heard. - In order that each of the statements and blessings can be clearly heard.

The congregation should not respond "Amen" until the blessing of the priests - This refers to the blessing recited before blessing the people, and also each of the priestly blessings.

is no longer heard. The priests may not begin another - one of the three priestly...

blessing -s - until the Amen of the community - recited in response to the previous blessing...

is no longer heard. - However, if a few individuals extend their pronunciation of "Amen" exceedingly, the recitation of the priestly blessings need not be delayed.

The leader of the congregation is not allowed to recite Amen to the priests' blessings like the rest of the people, lest he become confused and not realize which blessing to recite to them, whether the second blessing or the third blessing. - The recitation of "Amen" is not considered to be an interruption of his recitation of the Shemoneh Esreh. Nevertheless, he should not recite "Amen," because he may become confused and begin reading the wrong blessing to the priests.

Note that in Chapter 15, Halachah 10, the Rambam writes that if the chazan is the only priest present in a community, he should not bless the people, lest he become confused and err in his prayers. However, if he is sure that he will not make a mistake, he may bless the people. In the present halachah, the Rambam does not make such an allowance.

Perhaps the difference is that in Chapter 15, there is the possibility that the recitation of the priestly blessing will be nullified entirely. Hence, greater leniency is shown. In this halachah, the congregation as a whole will not suffer if the chazan does not respond "Amen" to the priests' blessings. Though the Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit. 128:19) quotes the Rambam's decision, Shulchan Aruch HaRav (128:31) and the Mishnah Berurah (128:71) state that particularly at present, when the blessings are recited from a siddur, the chazan should respond Amen.

Commentary Halacha 6

The priests are not permitted to turn their faces away from the congregation until the leader of the congregation begins [the blessing] Sim shalom. Neither may the priests leave their places - in front of the heichal

until the leader of the congregation concludes [the blessing] Sim shalom - nor should the priests speak among themselves.

nor may they close their fingers - from the outstretched position in which they are held while the priestly blessings are being recited.

until they turn their faces from the community. - All these three statements are quoted from Sotah 39b. However, the Rambam changes from the order in which these statements are found in the Talmud. Interestingly, the three statements are also quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:16) in still a different order.

One of the measures ordained by Ezra - This version is found in the standard printed text of the Mishneh Torah. The commentaries maintain that the text is in error, noting that Sotah 40a ascribes this decree to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

is that the priests should not ascend to the duchan wearing sandals. - This decree was instituted lest the sandal strap of one of the priests snap and he descend to fix it. Someone watching them might think that he was forced to descend because someone exposed a blemish in his lineage that prevented him from serving as a priest (Sotah, loc. cit.).

Rather, they should stand barefoot. - This statement is not included in Sotah (loc. cit.), and appears to have been added to negate the view of certain authorities, who allow a priest to recite the priestly blessings wearing boots. Nevertheless, even the Rambam allows the priests to wear socks (Rav Kapach). (See Shulchan Aruch and Ramah, loc. cit. and 128:5.)

Commentary Halacha 7

When the priests bless the people, they should not look at them - individually. A priest must concentrate his thoughts on blessing the people. Looking at any individual (or group) face to face might cause him to divert his thoughts from that intent.

or divert their attention - by thinking of other matters. See also Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:21), which states that the priests should not sing different chants while reciting the blessings for this same reason.

Rather, their eyes should be directed towards the earth like one standing in prayer. - See Chapter 5, Halachah 4.

The Levush develops this concept, explaining that implicit in the priests' recitation of the blessing is the prayer that God will truly bless the people.

A person should not look at the priests' faces while they are blessing the people, lest they divert their attention. - The Rambam's statements are based on the Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 4:8. The Babylonian Talmud (Chaggigah 16a) states that a person who looks at the priests while they are reciting the priestly blessing in the Temple will lose his eyesight from gazing at the Divine Presence, which rests between the priests' fingers.

Rather, all the people should listen attentively to the blessing - Hence, while the priests are reciting the blessing, the people should not recite any Biblical verses or prayers (Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit. 128:25). See Sotah 40a, which states, "Is there a servant who will not listen while he is being blessed?" Nevertheless, the Ramah allows verses to be recited while the priests are chanting.

they should [stand] face to face with the priests - See Halachah 11.

without looking at their faces. - See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:36, which explains that, at present, it is customary for both the priests and the congregation to pull their tallitot over their heads so that their attention will not be disturbed while the blessing is being recited. Nevertheless, the priests should extend their hands beyond their tallitot, so that there will be no separation between them and the people.

Commentary Halacha 8

If only one priest is blessing the people, he should begin reciting the blessing alone. - As mentioned in the commentary on Halachah 5, based on Numbers 6:23: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel: 'Say to them...,'” our Sages explained that before the priests bless the people, someone must "Say to them" - i.e., invite them to recite the blessing. However, since the verse mentions "them," Sotah 38a teaches that this invitation is not extended to a single priest.

[Afterwards,] the leader of the congregation reads [the blessings] to him, word for word, as mentioned - in Halachah 3.

If there are two or more [priests blessing the people] - Then the teaching mentioned above applies and

they do not begin reciting the blessing until the leader of the congregation - Rabbenu Tam protests against this statement, explaining that since the leader of the congregation is in the middle of the recitation of the Shemoneh Esreh, calling the priests - but not reading the blessings to them - would be considered an interruption, and therefore forbidden. Rather, another member of the congregation should call the priests.

The Rambam addresses himself to this question in one of his responsa and explains that there is nothing wrong with another member of the congregation calling the priests. However, there is no obligation to have this done. Since calling the priests is a necessary element of the repetition of the Shemoneh Esreh, it is not considered an interruption to the chazan's prayers. TheShulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:10) quotes the Rambam's view. Nevertheless, the Ramah suggests that the chazan should recite silently the paragraph beginning Elo-heinu, v'Elo-hei avoteinu, and in that way ensure that his call to the priests is not an interruption.

calls them, saying "Kohanim" - Ashkenazic custom is that the chazan then continues, Am Kedoshecha ka'amur - "Your consecrated people, as it is said:...," and then recites the blessing, word for word, for the priests (Ramah).

They answer and respond Y'varechecha - This follows the opinion mentioned in Halachah 3, that the chazan does not read the word Y'varechecha to the priests.

and then he reads [the blessings] to them, word for word,

in the manner described above - in Halachah 3.

Commentary Halacha 9

How is the priestly blessing recited in the Temple? The priests ascend to the duchan - This is a slightly problematic statement. The Mishnah (Middot 2:6) and the Rambam (Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 6:3) describe the duchan as three steps separating the Courtyard of the Israelites from the Priestly Courtyard. There, the Levites would stand and accompany the Temple service with songs and music. No mention is made of the priests standing there. Also, in Halachah 14, the Rambam mentions that the priests would bless the people while standing on the steps of the Temple building.

The Radbaz (Vol. II, Leshonot HaRambam) offers a resolution to this difficulty, noting that priests with disqualifying physical deformities may not stand on the Temple steps (Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 7:20). Thus, the majority of priests would stand on the Temple steps, and those with deformities would stand on the duchan.

The Tiferet Yisrael (Middot 2:4) states that most of the priests would stand on the Temple steps. If there was no room there, they would stand on the duchan.

after the priests have completed the service associated with the morning sacrifice offered daily. - Following the pattern established by Aharon, who blessed the people after completing the sacrificial offerings (Leviticus, Chapter 9).

They lift their hands above their heads - as an act of deference to the Shechinah, which rests between their fingers (Rashi, Sotah 38a). Note the contrast to the practice outside the Temple, as described in Halachah 3.

with their fingers extended - holding them in the same manner as described in Halachah 3.

except the High Priest. He does not lift his hands above the tzitz. - The tzitz refers to the golden plate worn by the High Priest on his forehead on which God's name is written (Exodus 28:37). Accordingly, it is not proper for the High Priest to lift his hands above it (Rashi, loc. cit.).

One person reads [the blessings] to them, word for word, in the same manner as outside the Temple - See Halachah 3.

until they complete the three verses. The people do not respond ["Amen"] after each verse - as is done outside the Temple.

Instead, in the Temple, [the priestly blessings] are read as a single blessing. - Since it is improper to recite "Amen" in the Temple, there is no need to make an interruption between verses (Sotah 40b).

When [the priests] conclude - the recitation of the entire blessing

all the people respond, "Blessed be God, the Lord, the Lord of Israel to all eternity." - Based on Nechemiah 9:5, this refrain was recited after each blessing recited in the Temple (Sotah, loc. cit.). The Ma'aseh Rokeach emphasizes that usually the person who recites a blessing in the Temple would add this refrain himself, and the listeners would respond: "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever." However, since the priests themselves are forbidden to add to the priestly blessings (see Halachah 12), "Blessed be God..." would be recited by the people, and not by the priests.

Alternatively, because the people had already responded "Blessed be the name..." in response to each of the three recitations of God's name in the priestly blessings, then, when the blessings are concluded, they recite "Blessed be God..." (Rishon Letzion, Berachot).

Commentary Halacha 10

They - the priests, when reciting the priestly blessing

recite [God's] name - i.e., the name י-ה-ו-ה - as it is written. This is what is referred to as the "explicit name" in all sources. - As mentioned in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 6:2, there are seven names of God which must be treated with reverence. However, the name י-ה-ו-ה is granted a greater degree of respect than the six others.

In the Guide to the Perplexed (Vol. I, Chapter 61), the Rambam explains that all the other names for God, refer to Him as He manifests Himself in a particular quality and thus, have parallels in human terms. In contrast, the name, י-ה-ו-ה, refers to Him, as He stands above any relation to human terms.

In the country, - i.e., any place outside the Temple premises. In certain contexts - see the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishnah, Rosh HaShanah 4:1 - this refers to any place outside Jerusalem.

it - the name י-ה-ו-ה

is read [using another one of God's names]: אדני -Kiddushin 71a states: "I am not referred to as [My name] is written. My name is written י-ה-ו-ה and it is pronounced אדני."

Exodus 3:15 states: "This is My name forever." The word "forever" (לעולם) can be interpreted as לעלם - "to hide." God's essential name is to remain hidden from man.

for only in the Temple is this name [of God] recited as it is written. - Sotah 38a offers the following interpretation of Exodus 20:21: "Wherever I allow My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you": "In the place where I will come and bless you," - i.e., the Temple, the source of Divine blessing for the entire world - "I will allow My name to be mentioned" - the name י-ה-ו-ה, may be pronounced.

In his Commentary on the Mishnah (Sotah 7:4), the Rambam writes: "It is forbidden...to recite God's explicit name or to speak about it at all..., except in the Temple."

After Shimon HaTzaddik - Shimon HaTzaddik was the last surviving member of the Anshei HaK'nesset HaGedolah, the body of Sages who, under the direction of Ezra, laid the spiritual foundation for the return to Zion after the Babylonian exile.

died - Yoma 39b relates that Shimon HaTzaddik's death represented a turning point in the history of the second Temple. After his passing, five miracles that had reflected the manifestation of God's presence in the Temple ceased.

the priests ceased reciting the [priestly] blessing using God's explicit name even in the Temple, - and would recite a twelve-letter name of God instead (The Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. I, Chapter 62).

lest it be learned by a person lacking proper stature and moral conduct - In the Guide to the Perplexed (loc. cit.), the Rambam writes that knowledge of this name would destroy these individuals' faith.

Rashi (Kiddushin 71a) and Rabbenu Manoach state that these individuals would use the mystic power of the name for improper purposes.

The Sages of the early generations would teach [this name] - In the Guide to the Perplexed (loc. cit.), the Rambam writes:

[The name, י-ה-ו-ה]: It was not known to all men how to pronounce it, and which way each of the letters should be vocalized, whether any of the letters would be pronounced with a dagesh, and which one would be...
I think that when it says that the Sages would teach the four-letter name to their sons and disciples, this does not mean the pronunciation of the name alone..., but also its uniqueness and Divine secret.

once in seven years - Kiddushin (loc. cit.) mentions another opinion, which states that this name would be taught twice in two years, but favors the opinion quoted by the Rambam, since ultimate discretion is appropriate for this great mystic secret.

only to their students and sons - Our text of Kiddushin (loc. cit.) does not mention "sons." However, it is possible that the Rambam had a different text of that Talmudic passage.

[who had proven] their moral conduct. All this is in reverence for His great and awesome name.

Commentary Halacha 11

Wherever the priestly blessing is recited - whether in the Temple or outside its premises

it is recited only in the holy tongue - quoting the blessing as it is recorded in the Torah

as [implied by Numbers 6:23]: "This is how you should bless the children of Israel."

We have learned the following [instructions] - The Mishnah Berurah (128:50) states that all these instructions are absolute requirements. A priest who cannot fulfill them - e.g., an aged priest who cannot stand unsupported - should leave the synagogue before the priests are called to recite the blessings.

from the tradition [passed on] from Moses, our teacher, may he rest in peace: - Generally, the Rambam's use of the term mipi hashmu’ah, refers to Halachah LeMoshe MiSinai - laws learned as part of the oral tradition given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Yad Malachi).

This definition is somewhat difficult to accept in the present instance. A halachah LeMoshe MiSinai is not based on any specific verse in the Torah, while all the instructions in this halachah are derived by Sotah 38a based on different verses.

"This is how you should bless" - while standing. - Sotah loc. cit., explains that the recitation of the priestly blessing is considered to be equivalent to service in the Temple. Just as the Temple service was conducted while standing, the priestly blessing should also be recited while standing.

The Eshkol states that the congregation should also stand. Though this is the common custom, it is not an absolute requirement (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:23, Mishnah Berurah 51).

"This is how you should bless" - raising your hands - as Aharon did when he blessed the people (Leviticus 9:23).

"This is how you should bless" - in the holy tongue. - The expression "This is how" implies that the priests should recite the exact words mentioned in the verse (Sotah, loc. cit.).

"This is how you should bless" - face to face. - as a sign of closeness and affection.

"This is how you should bless" - in a loud voice. - From the words "Speak to them" (Numbers, loc. cit.), Sotah, loc. cit., derives the law that the priestly blessing should be recited in a conversational tone, as a person speaks to a colleague. From this statement, the Sifre states that the blessing should be recited in a tone which is audible to the entire congregation. However, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:23 and the Mishnah Berurah 128:53 emphasize that the priests should not shout or chant in an overly loud tone.

"This is how you should bless" - mentioning [God's] explicit name - the name י-ה-ו-ה

the latter - Our translation is based on the responsum of the Nodah BiYhudah (Orach Chayim, Vol. I, 5). Note the Sh'vut Ya'akov (Vol. II, 1), who maintains that all these instructions are obligatory only in the Temple.

[applying only] when one is in the Temple, as explained - in the previous halachah.

Commentary Halacha 12

Wherever [they recite the blessing], - whether in the Temple or outside its premises

the priests are not permitted to add other blessings - e.g., "May God, Lord of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold" (Deuteronomy 11:11) - in addition to the three verses [of the priestly blessing]. - Rosh HaShanah 28b states that a priest should not think: "Since the Torah has given me permission to bless Israel, I will add a blessing of my own."

[These additions may not be made] either silently or out loud, as [Deuteronomy 4:2] states: "Do not add to the matter." - This is a general commandment, prohibiting making additions to any of the mitzvot of the Torah.

While a priest is ascending to the duchan, he recites [the following prayer] - This prayer, the blessing recited before blessing the people, and the prayer recited afterwards, are quoted (with minimal differences) from Sotah 39a-b. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:9) states that the priests should prolong the recitation of this prayer until the congregation concludes the recitation of "Amen" after the blessing Modim. The Magen Avraham states that the priests should conclude their prayer at the same time the chazan completes the blessing, so that the response "Amen" will also apply to their prayer.

when he leaves his place to ascend - The Ramah (Orach Chayim 128:9) states that Ashkenazic custom is to begin reciting this prayer when one stands before the heichal.

May it be Your will, God, our Lord and Lord of our fathers, that this blessing which You have commanded us to bless Your people, Israel, be a perfect blessing, that it not be marred by obstacles or iniquity - i.e., the priests pray that their lack of proper intention should not spoil the blessing.

from now until eternity. - These words are not found in our text of Sotah, loc. cit.

Before he turns to bless the community - The Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit., 128:11) and most later halachic authorities require the blessing to be recited after the priests turn to the people.

[a priest] should recite the blessing: - Since blessing the people fulfills a positive commandment, it is proper to recite a blessing beforehand, as we do before fulfilling most mitzvot.

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon - Since this mitzvah can be fulfilled only by the priests, the blessing differs from the blessing recited before fulfilling other mitzvot.

and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love. - The addition of the words "with love" is associated with the Zohar's (Vol. III, 147b) teaching: "Any priest who does not love [God's] people or is not beloved by His people should not bless the people."

Afterwards, he turns his face to the community and begins reciting the priestly blessings. - as explained in Halachah 3.

When he turns his face from the community after completing [the recitation] of the blessings - as explained in Halachah 4.

he recites [the following]: - The Ramah, Orach Chayim 128:15, states that the priests should prolong their recitation of this prayer so that they will conclude together with thechazan's conclusion of the blessing.

We have carried out that which You have decreed upon us. - Since the blessing is dependent on God (see Chapter 12, Halachah 7), the priests' actions are considered to be the fulfillment of a Divine decree (Maharsha, Sotah 39a).

Deal with us as You have promised us: - i.e.,..

Look down from Your abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people, Israel - Deuteronomy 26:15. In many communities, it is customary to add the last words of that verse, "a land flowing with milk and honey."

The recitation of this prayer is not considered to be an addition to the priestly blessings, because the priests have already lowered their hands from the position in which the blessing is recited (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:40).

Commentary Halacha 13

When the priests turn their faces to the community to bless them - See Halachah 3.

and when they turn their faces from the community after blessing [them] - See Halachah 4.

they should turn only to the right. - i.e., if the synagogue faces east, the priests should turn to the south and then to the west, and then recite the blessing. Afterwards, they should turn to the north and back to the west (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:26, Mishnah Berurah 128:61).

Similarly, any turns which a person makes - in the Temple or prayer service

should always be to the right.

Commentary Halacha 14

In the Temple, the priestly blessing would be recited once a day, after the [offering of] the morning sacrifice. - Note Tosafot, Sotah 39a, which states that the priestly blessing was also recited after the afternoon sacrifice.

[The priests] come and stand on the steps to the Ulam - The Ulam refers to the Entrance Hall to the Temple building. There were twelve steps leading to it. (See Hilchot Beit HaBechirah 6:4.)

Note the apparent contradiction between the Rambam's statements in this halachah and in Halachah 9, as explained in the commentary on Halachah 9. In Hilchot Temidim UMusafim 6:5, the Rambam also states that the priestly blessing was recited on the steps to the Ulam.

and recite the blessing, as mentioned above. - in Halachah 9.

However, outside the Temple, it is recited after every prayer service except Minchah, as explained - in Halachah 1.

In all places - whether in the Temple or outside its premises

an effort is made - Although the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 5:4) states: "The chazan should be an Israelite," the Rambam does not consider this to be a binding obligation.

that the person who reads the blessing to the priests - See Halachah 3, which relates that the priests recite the words of the blessing after someone else who reads them.

should be an Israelite, as [implied by Numbers 6:23]: "Say to them." This implies that the one who reads the blessing to them is not one of them. - The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:22) states that if there is no alternative and a priest serves as the chazan, an Israelite should read the blessings to the priests, and the chazan should remain silent in his place or recite the priestly blessings, as explained in Chapter 15, Halachah 10.

If there is no Israelite who can read the blessings to the priests, some authorities maintain that the priests should recite the blessings without having another person read them to them. However, other opinions maintain that the chazan should read the blessings to the priests even though he is himself a priest (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 128:34).

Published and copyright by Moznaim Publications, all rights reserved.
To purchase this book or the entire series, please click here.
The text on this page contains sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.
E-mail
About the book
Featuring a modern English translation and a commentary that presents a digest of the centuries of Torah scholarship which have been devoted to the study of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides.
About the Publisher
Moznaim is the publisher of the Nehardaa Shas, a new, state-of-the-art edition of the Talmud and all major commentaries in 20 volumes. Click here to purchase or email the publisher at sales@moznaim.com
Moznaim
Daily Quote
Abraham was told that his descendents will be like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:17), and as the stars of heaven (ibid. 15:5). So it is with Israel: When they fall, they will fall as low as the dust; when they rise, they will rise as high as the stars.
  –Pesikta Zutrati
This page in other languages
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG