When i spent a great deal of time watching Star Trek, I noticed that Leonard Nimoy, portraying the half-Vulcan character, Mr. Spock, used the priestly blessing gesture as he delivered the Vulcan “salute” along with the greeting, “Live long and prosper.” The phrase transcends the centuries and a variety of contexts with variations. An ancient Egyptian blessing translates as “May he live, be prosperous, and be healthy.” The NIV version of the Bible includes the phrase “live and prosper.” And Shakespeare’s 1594 “Romeo and Juliet” contains the line, “Live and be prosperous.”
The three-line Birkat Kohanim does seem to invoke a type of magical incantation, with the wand being replaced with the spread hands, thumbs touching, as did the Kohanim of the Torah. The three lines are laid out in fascinating formation. The first line contains three words:
Yevarechecha adonai v’yishmerecha.
May God bless you and protect you!
The second line has five words:
Ya’er adonai panav eilecha vichuneka.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you!
And the third line has seven words:
Yisa adonai panav eilecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.
May God’s face lift up before you and grant you peace!
3 – 5 – 7
The symmetry even extends to the letters: 15 letters, 20 letters, and, yes, 25 letters.
The incantation spreads a three-layer blanket onto the Children of Israel, and by extension, upon us. The first line takes us to the dawn of Creation when humanity was created, and then blessed. But as a blessed people, we then needed protection so as not to let our status lead us to take life for granted.
The second line bids God’s presence to shine upon us, to en-“lighten” us with awareness, knowledge, and wisdom, while at the same time granting us chen, grace, to be part of (and not apart from) those in need. Holding onto what God has granted leads to arrogance. It is incumbent upon each of us to participate with global humanity as we seek to heal our broken world.
And the final line, the climax of the blessing, is the one that is transformative. Seven words, the number being a symbol of completeness, takes us back to when Moses asked God to see His glory. “Vayomer lo tuchal lir’ot et panai ki lo yir’ani ha’adam va’chai – But God said, You cannot see My face for no man shall see Me and live.”
Here now, as the blessing builds to its heights, unlike Moses we are given the possibility of having the veil of God’s face lift before us. When we live with yir’at adonai, a sense of God’s awesomeness, only then can the grand prize of peace be attainable. If we live with the essence of God incorporated into every part of our being, as we live our lives, we stand a better chance of coming face to face with God. And one who stands face to face with our Creator cannot help but stand face to face with humanity in working towards shalom – peace for ourselves, peace for our communities, and peace for humankind.
As we continue to face these unprecedented times, may we feel the hands of the Kohanim upon our heads, absorbing the power that God has imbued in us to rise to the challenges. May we be blessed with prosperity, good health, and long life. May we find light where there is darkness and radiate that light onto others. And may we see the holy in each other as we endeavor to work towards the ultimate gift of shalom – peace for us, for our neighbors, and for the world.
Ken yehi ratzon – May it be God’s will.