OU Torah Insights Project
Parshas Naso highlights the koheins role in coping with social deviations that plague society.
It is the kohein who must deal with the thief whose pangs of conscience make him seek forgiveness. It is the kohein who must address himself to the husband and wife when suspicions of infidelity threaten the foundation of their home. It is the kohein who has to react to the concerns of the person, who, overwhelmed by the allurement of society, tries to protect himself from sin by becoming a nazir.
In all these instances, the koheins task is to be one who atones. "Vechiper hakohein," the Torah tells us. He is the one who repairs a relationship. He is the one who restores lost trust or self-image. "Vechiper hakohein"--the kohein is an agent of forgiveness.
At the heart of Parshas Naso, however, is a totally different assignment entrusted to the kohein. Five verses at the center of the parshah compose the blessing that the kohein bestows upon the people of Israel to this day.
As such, the kohein is presented with a new, most meaningful task. He is empowered: "Koh sevarachuSo shall you bless the children of Israel."
Be an instrument for bringing G-ds blessing to the Jewish people, the Torah commands. Bestow this blessing with a full heart, with love, adding raised hands to accompany the words of your mouth. Begin this precious blessing with the word "yevarechecha" and conclude it with the word "shalom."
The role here is no longer kohein as atoner, restorer of relationships, repairer of broken homes and broken hearts. Here, the kohein is called upon to be an agent of blessing, to act rather than to react, to offer "an ounce of prevention" rather than "a pound of cure."
A plethora of midrashim offer a variety of meanings to this word "koh." The Baal Haturim notes that the numerical value of "koh" is twenty-five, reminiscent of the twenty-five letters that make up the first pasuk of Kerias Shema.
"Koh sevarachu" also calls to mind the twenty-five times the Torah records the concept of blessing in association with G-d, and it recalls the twenty-five times that the word shalom appears in the Torah.
"Koh sevarachu" clarifies that the koheins most important mission: to be an agent of berachah and guidanceto make the Jew not just conscious of sin, but conscious of G-d.
Significantly, following the dedication of the Mizbayach by the leaders of the twelve tribes, in which Aharons role is diminished, the Torah details the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah, at the start of Parshas Behaalosecha.
Aharons privilege is emphasized. "Yours is greater than theirs," Hashem tells him. The message to the kohein is revealing. An altar, a Mizbayach is for repairing, forgiving, bringing atonement.
The Menorah, on the other hand, represents enlightenment, teaching, guidance. While the Mitzbayach uproots sin, the light of the Menorah, as well as the Birchas Kohanim, prevents the Jew from falling into the abyss of sin to begin with.
Let the pitfalls of sin and strife be overwhelmed by blessings of light. And may we thus merit the result of "veyaseim lecha shalom."
Rabbi Nachum Muschel
Rabbi Muschel is the rabbi of Congregation Hadar, and dean emeritus of Yeshivat Hadar Avraham Tzvi (ASHAR) in Monsey, New York.