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Priestly Blessing

PRIESTLY BLESSING (Heb. בִּרְכַּת כֹּהֲנִים), the formula in Numbers 6:24–26 ordained by God and transmitted to the priests by Moses for the blessing of Israel. Verse 27, "They shall invoke My name on behalf of the Israelites and I will bless them," makes explicit the intent of the ordained formula: to invoke the power of the Lord, who alone dispenses blessing. The threefold arrangement of the benediction may reflect an older incantation form; the three verses probably represent synonymous rather than climactic parallelism.

The blessing has been customarily translated "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace." The literalness of this translation obscures the force of the Citerew and fails to convey the court imagery of the biblical idiom. In biblical idiom the king shows favor (the verb ḥanan) to his subjects by giving them audience, access to "the light of his face," whereas his disfavor is expressed by "hiding" his face from them. The third verse of the benediction presents a problem, for the king never "lifts up his face upon" his subjects as a token of favor: "to lift one's own face" means "to look up" (II Kings 9:32), and it is rather the recipient of favor whose "face is lifted up" (who is nesu panim by the one who shows favor, see II Kings 3:14; Job 42:8, 9). In the blessing, however, the idea seems to be that of raising the features in a smile, the opposite of dropping them in a frown (cf. lo appil panai ba-khem; lit. "I will not drop my face against you," Jer. 3:12; cf. Gen. 4:5–6; Job 29:24). Finally, favor is a good deal more than the mere absence of hostility; consequently not just "peace" but friendship is what shalom means here, as in Judges 4:17 and in beriti shalom (Num. 25:12), and berit shelomi (Isa. 54:10), both of which mean "my covenant/promise of friendship." If one further assumes that a ו (vav) has been omitted at the end of שָׁלוֹם before the ו (vav) at the beginning of וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שְׁלוֹמוֹ, וְשָׂמוּ will mean the exact opposite of אָסַפְתִּי אֶת שְׁלוֹמִי מֵאֵת הָעָם הַזֶּה ("I have withdrawn my friendship from that people"; Jer. 16:5). With this small change, the rendering of Numbers 6:24–26 in the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Pentateuch (1962) is reproduced below in order to bring out the synonymity of the verses:

 The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you His friendship!

The structure of this threefold blessing is interesting to note: the first sentence contains three words, the second five words, and the third seven words. The name of the Deity (*Tetragrammaton) is found in the second word of each sentence.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

S. Abramson, in: Turei Yeshurun, 16 (1970), 15–17; Maim., Yad, Tefillah; Sh. Ar., OḤ 128f.; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 67ff.; Eisenstein, Yisrael, S.V. Nesi'at Kappayim, Eisenstein, Dinim, 58, 276f.; JE, 3 (1902), 244–7; H.D. Halevy, in: "Shevilin," 18–19 (1967), 114–28.