The Mishnah Berurah seems to reject this view and notes that the reason people at home are not included in Birkat Kohanim is because by staying at home (as opposed to being in the field, which indicates economic activity), they are in effect proclaiming that they have no interest in Birkat Kohanim. He also notes that this is why someone who faces away from the kohanim is not included in the berachah. He clearly demonstrates that the berachah is of no importance to him.
Some people may stand with their backs to the kohanim for fear that they might look at the kohanim’s hands. As Rabbi Yosef Grossman (Otzar Erchei HaYahadus p.112) explains, the Shechinah rests on the fingers of the kohanim during Birkat Kohanim. Nevertheless, one is still duty-bound to face the kohanim, and with the present-day minhag of kohanim covering their hands during the blessing with a talis, there is no real worry about gazing upon the kohanim. Furthermore, as discussed last week, the Shechinah rests upon the kohanim only when the Holy Temple is standing.
Most married adults nowadays cover themselves with their taleisim to prevent themselves from accidentally looking at the kohanim. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (Igrot Moshe, Vol. 5 Orach Chayim 24:4) writes that although many people cover themselves with their taleisim, we cannot mandate that they do so, especially since the general Ashkenaz custom is that only married men wear taleisim. Some parents bring their young children under their taleisim, but others do not. Women of course also do not wearing taleism. Despite all this, Rabbi Feinstein notes that we are not overly concerned that people will gaze upon the kohanim since the kohanim are covered by their taleisim.
As we conclude this discussion, we should always remember that tefillah b’tzibbur is a collaborative effort whose rewards are inestimable. One is wise to take great pains and invest much effort in this process in order to receive these rewards. This includes joining minyanim at every prayer and actively learning the responsibilities of a congregant. May all our prayers be meaningful and may we merit the ultimate divine response of redemption speedily in our days.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.