The Talmud tells us that when the kohanim would stand on the platform (duchan) in the Temple and bless the Jewish people using G‑d’s ineffable name, the Divine Presence would rest above the joints of their fingers. It was therefore said that if one looked at the kohanim’s hands at that time, his eyes would become “dim.”1

However, today, when there is no Temple standing and the kohanim no longer use G‑d’s ineffable name, why don’t we look at the kohanim during the Priestly Blessing?

Do Not Disturb

According to Jewish law, the kohanim are supposed to concentrate when blessing the congregation, praying to G‑d that He bless the entire Jewish nation. For their part, the congregation should concentrate on receiving the blessing. In order that no one be distracted, the kohanim cover their faces and hands with a tallit.2

Technically, a quick glance at the hands of the priests should be permitted. Nevertheless, the custom is to be stringent and not even glance at them, in remembrance of the times when the blessing was administered with G‑d’s sacred name and even a glance would have been dangerous.3

Peering Through the Cracks

Although the primary reason for not looking is to not get distracted, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) explains that the original reason still applies to a certain extent.4

Song of Songs 2:9 states, “Behold, He is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering through the cracks.” The Midrash5 interprets “looking from the windows” to mean that the Divine Presence rests above the heads of the kohanim and “peering through the cracks” to mean that it is manifest between their fingers.6

Based on this Midrash, Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (Rosh) taught that although it is true that a person's eyes will no longer become “dim” by looking at the kohanim, it is still not proper to do so.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often cite this same verse and a related Midrash in relation to our times, when Moshiach’s coming is imminent. He is standing on the other side of the wall of exile—a wall that is already cracked and crumbling—waiting impatiently for the final redemption, when G‑d’s presence will be openly revealed.7 May it be speedily in our days!