One of the Kohanim in our synagogue this past Shavuot is not a regular attendee. That’s alright, of course; every Jew is welcome in shul, no matter how often you visit and no one is marking attendance. He’d brought his family for the reading of the 10 Commandments and had stayed in the main sanctuary while his kids joined the ice-cream party in the social hall.

However, he probably didn’t realize that he was about to get dragged into the thick of the action. The yom tov morning service is every Kohen’s chance to shine. Near the end of Musaf all the kids scurry into shul and burrow under their fathers’ tallit. The Kohanim ascend the steps in front of the ark, hide their faces under their own tallesim, and turn to face the crowd. As the rest of us hush in anticipation, they stretch out their hands towards the crowd and bless us. It’s a beautiful ritual and one of the highlights of every festival.

However, I can imagine that for a Kohen who does not regularly take part in the ceremony, it could prove someone confronting. You’d be up there, literally on a pedestal; expected to know when to take off your shoes, where to stand, how exactly to hold your hands while reciting the blessing and precisely what words to say.

I tried to help him. I showed him the instructions in the back of the siddur and deputized another, somewhat more experienced Kohen, to stand by his shoulder in support. I did my best but I could well imagine that I left him only marginally less confused than he had been to start with. You see, I’m not much of an expert myself. I’m no Kohen and even as a kid I’d struggled when practicing placing my fingers in the ritual position (Leonard Nimoy the actor who played Spock on Star Trek modeled his Vulcan salute after the gesture he saw the Kohanim making during his childhood visits to shul).

As I was modeling the motions for him, I caught myself wondering why we bother in the first place. Is it not enough to task someone with the duty of blessing the nation without also expecting him to play traffic cop at the same time? Why make him go through what looks like an elaborate game of charades, when we could just have him face the crowd and quietly intone the sacred blessing without resorting to such expansive gestures?

Perhaps the message being conveyed is that words alone are not enough. It would be relatively easy to mouth some pious platitudes and then slink back to your seat, but to really make a difference in the lives of others you must do more than just say nice things to them. We bring the hands and motions into the ritual to demonstrate that words must be accompanied by actions.

Too often we satisfy our urge to help by dispensing advice or vague well wishes, but a real blessing demands that we make an actual difference in the lives of those we encounter. When we stop just feeling and start doing, we bring true blessings to the recipients and demonstrate ourselves worthy of the role of representing G‑d, as He blesses His people.