A Handy Blessing
A meditation on the priestly blessing and God's alienation from humanityJewish Theological Seminary Web site.
In older Jewish cemeteries, you will often come upon a tombstone decorated with a pair of hands. They are often juxtaposed near the top, arched in a triangle with fingers noticeably apart. The symbol of hands positioned to administer the priestly blessing designates the grave of aKohen,
a putative descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. As ancient Jewish art often does, the image embodies midrash in visual form. And since the priestly benediction is the centerpiece of this week'sparashah
--portion-- (6:24-26), I wish to reflect on the far-reaching meaning of this midrash.
When blessing the congregation of worshipers, first in the Temple and later in the synagogue, priests, according to the rabbis, raised their hands and spread their fingers in a prescribed manner. The midrash is attached to the introductory phrase: "Thus shall you [Aaron and his sons] bless the people of Israel (6:23)," because the force of the wording conveys not only precision but illustration. The rabbis imagine a moment of public protest. Israel challenges God: "What need do we have of a priestly benediction? It is Your blessing that we seek and which indeed we have direct access to, as it is written: 'Look down [God] from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil You have given us'"(Deuteronomy 26:15).