Holiday morning services have nearly finished; there is a stir of excitement throughout the synagogue as the children stream in from all directions and dive under their fathers' tallits. The Levites saunter back to their places after having ceremoniously washed the hands of the priestly Kohanim, while the Kohanim file self-consciously into the synagogue, slip off their shoes and assume their position at the front. The chazzan reaches the moment, the Kohanim turn around, lower their prayer shawls over their eyes, raise their hands towards the crowd and the Priestly Blessing begins.

What an amazing religion we have where certain people have been specifically assigned the job of blessing the masses with sanctity and love:

May G‑d bless you and guard you.
May G‑d cause his face to shine to you and favor you.
May G‑d raise his face to you and grant you peace

Numbers 6:24-26

What wonderful words of blessing and true evidence of G‑d's love. However, it is the next line of the Torah's instructions that I find truly enlightening:

They [the priests] should place My name upon the Children of Israel, and I will bless them (—ibid. v. 27).

The relationship between the Priests, the Jews and G‑d is instructive for the way we should liveThose last words, "and I will bless them", have been variously interpreted to either be referring to the Jews or to the Priests. According to the first explanation it means that G‑d Himself will fulfill those blessings pronounced by the Kohanim on His behalf, while the alternative way of reading the verse is that after the Kohanim bless the people, G‑d blesses them in return.

I would suggest that both explanations are equally valid and perhaps even mutually dependent. The relationship between the Priests, the Jews and our G‑d is instructive for the way we should live our lives.

People often worry that the time and effort they expend on helping other people will cost them in the long run. They're afraid to volunteer themselves for public duty or to dedicate themselves to altruism because they're worried about the gossip and innuendo that such dedication may bring. Other people are just too busy feathering their own nest to have the time or inclination to donate to those less fortunate than themselves.

G‑d tells us that if we are there for other people, He'll be there for us. The Kohanim's job is to display love and blessings, they have the enviable task of standing up in public, extending their arms in affection and welcoming the nation into the G‑dly fold. They are promised that their communal endeavors will be crowned with success and that G‑d Himself will validate their blessings.

However, they too will be blessed in turn. When you shower others with affection, G‑d responds in kind. The Kohanim's efforts are welcomed by G‑d and reciprocated. Where necessary, the fact that they were willing to stand up and extend themselves for others will be the saving grace that keeps them close to G‑d and guarantees them a future.