Probably one of the best-known blessings comes from this Shabbat’s Torah portion: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you. May the Lord be- stow his favor on you and grant you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
Sephardic Jews add the next verse: “Thus they shall link my name with the people of Israel and I will bless them.”
The first three verses are used at many occasions as a blessing. Every erev Shabbat families bless their children with these three short sentences. In Hebrew, the priestly benediction is even shorter, with three words in the first verse, five words in the second verse and seven words in the third verse, suggesting that God’s blessings expand.
On holidays outside of Israel and every Shabbat in Israel, there is the tradition that the kohanim, the descendants of Aaron, are invited to invoke this blessing as Aaron was commanded to do. The kohanim come forward and during Sim Shalom, the prayer for peace at the end of Ha’Tfilah or Amida, with their tallitot over their heads and their arms spread out, they bless the people using these blessings. Their hands are spread with spaces between the third and fourth fingers and the thumb away from the hand, as Mr. Spock would do in a Vulcan greeting on “Star Trek.” Actually, Leonard Nimoy drew on his Jewish roots, turning the hand symbol of the kohanim into the now-famous Vulcan greeting he used with the phrase “Live long and prosper.”
The hand formation is supposed to represent the letter “shin,” which is the first letter in “Shalom” and also the first letter in “Shaddai” which is one of God’s names. It is a reminder to the kohanim, and to us, that it is God who is blessing us and not the kohanim. They are only the instruments of God.
After a 12-year absence, this year our congregation in Greensburg was again visited by the sofer Neil Yerman. He is an amazing teacher of Torah who has so many insights into the letters of the Torah and more, that he left my head spinning. On his first visit to us twelve years ago, Neil showed us in the Torah how the text of the Priestly Benediction is shaped like the letter “shin.” If you look at this sideways the “shin” is on its side with the base on your right and the fingers of the letter on your left. If you cannot see it, ask your rabbi or cantor to show you in a tikkun or a Torah scroll.
Thus, even as we read the Priestly Benediction, we have a visual reminder of the “Shin” for “Shaddai” and for “Shalom.” As you keep reading these columns by my colleagues and keep learning, may your blessings increase and may your Shabbat be one of peace.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)