Naso – Authenticity the Key to Blessings

Right smack in the middle of this week’s Torah portion of Naso are the birkas kohanim, the priestly blessings. These blessings were given by Hashem to the kohanim in order for them to bless the Jewish people. The first one, “May the Lord bless you and watch over you” (Bamidbar 6:23), Rabbeinu Bachye in his midrashic interpretations says it means that one should be blessed with wealth and still be able to perform all the mitzvos of Hashem. The second blessing in pasuk 24 states, “May the Lord cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you.”Rabbeinu Bachye says in one of his midrashic interpretations that this means that one should be blessed with the ability to raise children who will be bnei Torah, as it says, ‘for a candle is the mitzvah and Torah is it’s light’ (Mishley 6:25). The last blessing in pasuk 25 reads, “May the Lord raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.” One of the interpretations for this blessing given by the Rabbeinu Bachye is that wherever one turns, Hashem shall raise His countenance upon you, to place upon you peace, and you will be saved from all peril and all happenstance. This refers to hashgacha pratis plus, meaning that Hashem should constantly shower one with extra-individualized, Divine intervention to take specific care of him or her in all circumstances.

The Mishna Berura (siman 128:34:) poskins [establishes the law] that according to halacha a child may duchen [give over the priestly blessings to the congregation] with other adult kohanim who are 13 and above, in order to train him how to do it. However, if kohanim at the minyan are only children, they should not do it by themselves because it is a lack of honor to the congregation to be blessed by a child. But as soon as a kohen reaches the age of maturity then he is able to give over the blessings by himself, whether he is married or not. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

However, Rabbeinu Bachye quotes a view of Rabbeinu Yitzchak HaZaken the Baal Tosfos who says that a kohen should not duchen unless he is married. Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to say, “In truth there is a basis for this because a person isn’t complete without his soulmate, and he is not fit to bless or to receive blessing. For this reason Nadav and Avihu deserved to be punished, for they did not want to get married and the daughters of Israel were waiting for them and were sitting unmarried their entire lives. I I have had already written discussed that this is one of the six reasons given by Chaza”l in their midrashim for their sin. For this the pasuk writes, ‘Fire consumed His youths and His virgins were not married’ (Tehillim 78:63). Why did ‘Fire consumed His youths’ because His virgins were not married, from here we see they were punished according to one of the opinions, for they were not fit for the Jews to be blessed through them. Therefore, the kohen needs to be complete, with his soulmate, as an example of the traits that come through the blessings given by them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The famous Baal Tosfos, the R”I, holds that only married kohanim can give the priestly blessings to the congregation because he has to be considered a complete person in order to properly give over the Divine blessings. These blessings, with all of their meanings to the congregation, include that one’s children should be brought up to be children of Torah, that they be Torah observant and appreciate the Torah lifestyle and learning it, which means one has to be married to have the children.

However, what would be wrong, according to Rabbeinu Yitzchak Hazaken, with an unmarried kohen who hopes to one day get married, or even a child learning, if they strive to one day be in this position to accept and give over the blessing of children who will one day be bnei Torah? One could understand why Nadav and Avihu were punished on their level for being very picky when trying to find a shidduch, and therefore putting themselves into a position where they seem never to get married and were not deserving to give these blessings, which is why Hashem killed them. But anyone else who is single, who would like to one day get married, why would they not be able to duchen even when they are not yet married?

It would seem from Rabbeinu Bachye that because he says in his last line, “Therefore, the kohen needs to be complete, with his soulmate, as an example of the traits that come through the blessings given by them,” that in terms of giving the Divine blessing one has to be completely authentic. Therefore until he truly understands and experiences the meaning of the blessing, which is when he is married and in position to have children, then he can’t fully relate to the blessing, and therefore cannot give it over properly to the congregation.

Authenticity is so important to Hashem, that at least in regards to such an important service as giving over the blessings that Hashem granted the kohanim to give the congregation, the R”I HaZaken is of the view that only married people, those that are complete and true to the blessings are fit to give them. This is even at the expense that there might be times no one would be able to give the blessings, for example in a yeshiva where there are no married kohanim, but complete authenticity is more important in his view.

Though we poskin that an unmarried kohen can indeed duchen for the congregation, assumedly because Chaza”l in their vast wisdom understood that this ideal high level is not required (possibly, as long as one day a kohen hopes to be married he can relate enough to this blessing therefore they are allowed to duchen), there is still a lesson in authenticity to be learned and much appreciated from Rabbeinu Yitzchak Hakohen, Baal HaTosfos.