In this week’s Parsha, there is a mitzva for the Kohanim to bless the Jewish people. The words with which they bless the people are in this Parsha, “May G-d bless you and guard you. . . .” This is called the Birkas Kohanim. We commonly call it Duchaning, after the platform – the Duchan - on which the Kohanim stood as they blessed the people.
In the Bais Hamikdash the blessing was daily after the morning sacrifice. Outside the Bais Hamikdash, the Kohanim blessed the people after Shacharis, Musaf and also Ne’ila on fast days. This is still the custom in many parts of Israel, as well as among Sefardim outside of Israel. Ashkenazim outside of Israel only duchan on Yom Tov during Musaf. It is also interesting to note that until the time of Alexander the Great, the Kohnaim in the Bais Hamikdash pronounced the name of G-d as it is written. After that time, they pronounced the name of G-d as we say it today.
During the duchaning, the Kohanim are not supposed to look at the people nor are the people supposed to look at the Kohanim because everybody should be concentrating on the blessing – not on the Kohanim. The idea of not looking at the Kohanim because it will cause blindness was a matter in the Bais Hamikdash when G-d’s presence – was present among the fingers of the Kohanim. Nowadays, it is strictly a matter of concentration.
With a few exceptions, all kohanim are permitted to bless the people. One of those exceptions is a kohein who killed another person – even by mistake – even if he repented. This raises a few questions: Can a Kohein duchan if he was involved in a fatal car accident? What about a kohein who is a soldier who has fought in a war? A kohein who drank wine cannot duchan.
Other than the exceptions, a Kohein is permitted to duchan and should duchan. To quote the words of the Rambam, “Because this is a positive mitzva upon every Kohein and we don’t tell a person not to do a Mitzva.”
What a concept – “we don’t tell a person not to do a mitzva!” I can’t say, “that person is not as religious as I am, therefore he should not duchan. . . He is not so religious, so he shouldn’t be giving tzedaka . . . “He doesn’t keep kosher anyway, so why should I give him my kosher meal on the airplane? . . . he doesn’t keep Shabbos, so I don’t want him davening in shul with me.”
We can imagine people making these statements and we probably know people who have said such statements. The Rambam says, G-d forbid to say such a thing! Every person is obligated to perform mitzvos – no matter what level of observance or non-observance he or she lives up to. If I try to stop a person from doing a mitzva, I am not only harming that person. I am harming myself and the entire Jewish people. Every mitzva a person does reaps benefits for the world and it doesn’t make a difference who the person is that performs the mitzva.
If a person should say, “What good is the bracha of a kohein?” The answer is simple. The bracha comes from G-d. The kohein is doing what G-d commanded him to do. Therefore, he is doing a mitzva and is benefitting all of world Jewry by doing this mitzva.
In the Torah, the section of Birkas Kohanim concludes with, “and they will place My name upon the Children of Israel and I will bless them.” All blessing comes from G-d. Our duty is to follow the word of G-d, do mitzvos and encourage others to do mitzvos. Then we will be worthy of G-d’s blessings and see all the great things that He has promised.