June 16, 2005

The Priestly Blessing in the Diaspora

From Arutz Sheva

There is a very interesting difference between Eretz Israel and Chutz la'Aretz (the Diaspora) in the Shacharit prayers, recited every morning. While in most of Israel birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing, is given daily by the kohanim themselves, in the Diaspora it is the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) who "requests" this blessing. Only on the holidays is this beracha extended by the kohanim (according to the Ashkenazi rite).

The Rema, on Orach Chayim 128:44, explains that throughout the year, people living outside of Israel are worried about their livelihood and, therefore, not in a true state of simcha (joy), which is necessary for birkat kohanim. Only on Yom Tov, at the time of Musaf, when they are about to leave synagogue and rejoice in the day's celebrations, are the kohanim in the proper frame of mind for the beracha.

The Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chayim 128:64, has difficulty justifying a custom that allows one of the 613 mitzvot to be skipped over most of the year. "But what can we do," he says, "for it is as if a heavenly voice issued forth stopping us from 'lifting the hands' during the year. I have a tradition that two great Torah authorities attempted to institute it on a daily basis and... they were unable and said that so it has been decreed from Heaven.

"Denizens of the Diaspora, don't despair. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach quotes the Shelah, who wrote from Eretz Israel to his family still in Chutz la'Aretz: "...the kohanim raise their hands every day and I keep you in mind and draw the blessing to you."

May we all merit to receive God's threefold blessing of His people.

[For the refuah sheleimah of Moshe Yitzchak ben Devorah Malka.]

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