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The Blessing

The Blessing

A step-by-step guide leading the priest through the blessing

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This article discusses the function of the Kohanim. Click here for the congregation's participatory role in the blessing.

Calling Upon the Kohanim

The chazzan recites the prayer which precedes the Birkat Kohanim ("Our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, bless us with the threefold [Priestly] Blessing…"), until he reaches the word "Kohanim"—which he proclaims out loud; officially summoning the Kohanim to discharge their priestly duty. The chazzan then continues, "am kedoshecha ka'amur" ("Your holy [priestly] nation, as it is said...").1

At this point, the Kohanim – who are facing the Ark – rotate themselves clockwise to face the congregation and incant a blessing, thanking G‑d for "sanctifying us with Aaron's sanctity and commanding us to bless His nation Israel with love."

Raised Hands

Immediately after the blessing, the Kohanim lift their hands beneath their tallits—shoulder-high, palms outstretched and facing downwards. The right hand should be slightly more elevated than the left one.

The fingers are positioned in a manner which leaves five "windows" through which G‑d's blessings flow to the congregation. The general idea is to separate each hand into three "sections"—leaving spaces on each hand between the thumb and index finger, and between the middle and ring finger. The fifth space is completed by the way the two thumbs are configured together. There are different traditions regarding this configuration—Kohanim should consult with their father or rabbi to determine their family/community tradition in this matter.

Sephardim have a completely different tradition. They raise their hands above their heads and separate all their fingers.

The Kohanim should not gaze at their hands during the Birkat Kohanim.

The Chazzan Leads

The chazzan then leads the Kohanim in the Birkat Kohanim. He recites aloud the fifteen words of the blessing:

'May G‑d bless you and guard you.
'May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
'May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.'" (Numbers 6:24-26)

The Hebrew words are:

Yivarechecha
Adonai
viyishmirecha

Ya'er
Adonai
panav
elecha
veechuneka

Yeesa
Adonai
panav
elecha
viyasem
lecha
shalom

The Kohanim repeat after the chazzan word-for-word. The Kohanim must chant the words of the Birkat Kohanim in a loud voice—but not a shout. It is traditional in many communities for the Kohanim to precede each word with a short melody. The Kohanim must wait for the chazzan to completely conclude saying a word before repeating it.

After the conclusion of the Birkat Kohanim, the Kohanim remain facing the congregation until the chazzan begins the Sim Shalom blessing. At this point they turn around – clockwise again – and only when they are once again facing the Ark may they bring down their outstretched hands.

While the chazzan recites the Sim Shalom, the Kohanim recite a short prayer, "informing" G‑d that they had complied with His command to administer the Priestly Blessing, and now He must do as He has promised—"Look down from Your holy Heavenly Abode and bless Your people and the Land which You have given us…"
Ideally, the Kohen should conclude this prayer as the chazzan finishes the Sim Shalom blessing—allowing the congregation to respond "Amen" to both prayers simultaneously.

The Kohanim remain at the front of the sanctuary until the conclusion of the kaddish which immediately follows the Repetition of the Musaf Amidah. They then (put on their shoes) and file back to their places.

FOOTNOTES
1.

If there's only one Kohen present, the chazzan does not say "Kohanim" – the plural form of Kohen – aloud, rather he says the entire prepatory prayer silently, and the Kohen begins saying the blessing on his own.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
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Discussion (14)
May 8, 2013
Re: Ritual Purity laws
For a discussion on the laws of the Kohen's purity see The Kohen's Purity chabad.org/885633
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
May 8, 2013
Re: Washing hand and removal of shoes
This article is about the actual priestly blessing, the required preparations for the blessing such as the washing of the hand and the Kohen's removal of his shoes is discussed in the article: Preparing for the Blessing - How the priests prepare themselves for the blessing chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/894582
Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org
May 6, 2013
Is there a complete source for all of the Ritual Purity laws for Kohanim?
I have been searching and asking Rabbis for the answer. The most common answer is that the laws pertaining to Kohanim are in four obscure books and are very difficult to find.
David K.
Los Angleles
December 6, 2012
priestly blessing
Your article is incomplete: you don't discuss when the shoes are removed, the washing of the hands, the role of the levites.
Anonymous
Israel
May 31, 2011
Jacqueline
Aaron was commanded to raise his hands and bless Israel. According to the authorities, there is nothing in the Torah specifying exactly how he held his fingers.
Elchanan
Anonymous
May 31, 2011
To GG and Naftali
There are 15 words in Birkas Konanim. On each hand, there are 14 joints/segments of the fingers. Three for each finger and two for the thumb. Each designated part of the fingers(and thumb) represent a pronounced "word". The palm represents Shalom, the 15th word.
Elchanan
Anonymous
May 17, 2011
Birkat Kohanim
I understand the translation of the 15 words of the Blessing, I do not know what we are to be blessed with. Is there any allusion to good health,prosperity , fruitfulnes or any other blessing?
Abraham Birenbaum
Toronto, Canada
March 2, 2011
Re: 28
There is special symbolism in the Kabbalah to the number 28. There are 22 regular letters in the Hebrew alphabet, plus 5 "final letters" (letters that are written differently when at the end of a word), and the Alef of breath that is needed to "go along with" and vocalize every one of the letters.

There are twenty eight letters in the first verse in the Torah, and the introductory verse of the 10 commandments.
Anonymous
NYC
March 1, 2011
The Blessing
When did God explain all this positioning of the hands?
Jacqueline Brunger
Cirencester, Glos
February 28, 2011
To GG
I have no clue.
Naftali Silberberg (author)
Brooklyn, NY
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