Former Shalaich in Manhattan
The Rambam in Hilchot Tefilla (15:7) writes with regard to Birkat Cohanim that the Cohanim are simply a channel for Hashem’sblessing to Bnei Yisrael. The bracha is not the Cohanim’s bracha to Bnei Yisrael, rather it is a bracha from Hashem to the Nation of Israel,which at his own mercy and will decides to give us a bracha. The wonder only grows when we learn the Rambam’s words just a chapter earlier (14:3), according to which, the chazzan reads out the three famous pesukim word by word and the Cohanimmust follow him. Looking at the two Halachot we have just learned, it seems that the Cohanim have no real responsibility in relation to Birkat Cohanim, as they have no control of the bracha they are to deliver, and they are not even expected to phrase the bracha as they are lead through it by the chazzan.
The first time that we learn of a Cohen’s bracha is in our parasha when we see that Aharon raise his arms and deliver a blessing toBnei Yisrael on the eighth day of the inauguration of the tabernacle.
Rashi and the Ramban argue whether that bracha is the very bracha that we know to be as Birkat Cohanim, and although it seems more rational to accept the Ramban’s view which claims that Aharon delivered a different bracha at the time of the inauguration, we may want to keep in mind Rashi’s view.
On the one hand, it seems only reasonable that on the eighth day, after seven rough days of working in Ohel Moed, Aharon breaks out with a spontaneous bracha to the nation. The joy that must have filled the air can barley be imagined as a home was finally created for Hashem’s divine continues presence among our forefathers as they traveled the Desert of Sinai.
However, when reading Parashat Naso we may see that Birkat Cohanim was delivered right after the very occasion of completion of building the Mishkan, and although it may be found only in the book of Bamidbar, it relates to the very same period. Many commentators have found the two events in the two different parashot to be related. If that’s the case, we can clearly understand where Rashi learned that the spontaneous bracha of our parasha is the same bracha that we know to be lacking of any responsibility of the Cohanim.
The Mishana in Megila (23a) relates to different tasks that require a quorum of ten men in order to perform them. One of them isBirkat Cohanim, and the Aruch Hashulchan explains that it seems to need a divine presence, which does not occur if a minyan is not present.
The exact opposite opinion may be found in the Ran’s words (Tractate Megila 13a) who related to the aspect of the bracha being given to Bnei Yisrael, and since Bnei Yisrael are always more than ten, the bracha requires a Minyan.
The Ran bases his opinion both on the psukim brining forth Birkat Cohanim and the pasuk in our parasha. From the pasuk in ourparasha we can derive several new ideas relating to Birkat Cohanim. The first idea is that Birkat Cohanim should be performed as abracha, something that is not clear from Parashat Naso. The second is with regard to the time of the bracha, due to its timing which takes place immediately after offering the sacrifices in the Mikdash.
We know of that Birkat Cohanim took place in Beit Hamikdash (Tractate Tamid, Chapter 5) as part of the public daily offerings right after offering the morning sacrifices. In that case, it is obvious why we would need a minyan to perform the same bracha today – the nature of a public offering requires a minyan.
One may want to learn of the dual meaning that Birkat Cohanim has. The essence of the bracha on one hand is inducing the name of Hashem in the nation. That being related to matters of kedusha, it must be performed in a minyan. On the other hand,Birkat Cohanim is the final stage of the offering of public sacrifices in Beit Hamikdash and do to its public nature, it requires aminyan.
Relating back to our first question, seeing that the Cohanim lack any responsibility in relation to Birkat Cohanim we can view their job as being Hashem’s way of channeling a barcha to the nation. That is an additional way of inducing his name in the world. Truthfully, in that case, the Cohanim lack of any specialty as they deliver the bracha, and being the servants of Hashem in Beit Hamikdash, they act as the ‘shofar in the hands of the ba’al tekiah’.
However, when we see the active part of the Cohanim in Beit Hamikdash during the performance of the sacrificial requirements, we may view their bracha to the nation in a different manner. The spontaneous bracha that Aharon gave Bnei Yisrael,which may very well be a reflection of the joy of completing the Avoda in the Mishkan for the very first time, may be the trigger for the futureBirkat Cohanim which was established after every daily sacrifice in Beit Hamikdash.
In light of all this, we can understand why different aspects of Birkat Cohanim are performed in such manner. For example, theCohanim will never start their bracha without being called upon since they are only the messengers of Hashem, and as those they cannot initiate the bracha without being called upon. On the other hand, we may not waive the necessity of being blessed by theCohanim themselves since we have learned of their importance to the frame of the bracha, being that they are in charge of performing the offerings of the public sacrifices.