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Count Your Blessings


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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.

“And Aharon raised his hands and blessed the people…. And the Glory of Hashem appeared to the people” (Vayikra 9:22-23). The first verse mentions only Aharon, the second mentions both Aharon and Moshe. Rashi says that the first blessing, offered solely by Aharon, was the famous three-part Birkas kohanim, consisting of “Yevorechecha, Ya’eir, and Yisa” (Bamidbar 6:24-26), based on the verse saying that Aharon raised his hands, indicating the blessing of nesiyas kapayim.

That second verse in Vayikra (9:23) tells us that Moshe and Aharon entered the Ohel Moed, and upon exiting they jointly blessed the people. Rashi says this blessing was “Vehe Noam” (Tehillim 90:17): “May the Shechina rest upon us…” Nesiyas kapayim was not associated with the second blessing. Moshe, as we mentioned last week, had the status of a kohen gadol. Why didn’t Moshe participate in the first blessing? Why didn’t he raise his hands in blessing like Aaron raised his hands and bless the people? Why didn’t Moshe and Aharon, the two kohanim gedolim, jointly recite Birkas kohanim upon exiting from the Ohel Moed?

We find that the children of Aharon are sometimes referred to as bnei Aharon hakohanim and other times as bnei Aharon hakohen. Some aspects of the service in the Mishkan were given to Aharon’s children, the kohanim, while others were given specifically to Aharon. All those who succeeded him in the role of kohen gadol acted as his representative, as a virtual Aharon.

For example, the mitzvah of Avodas Yom Kippur was given specifically to Aharon, who, according to most opinions, was permitted to enter the Kodesh HaKodoshim to perform the service in the Holy of Holies any time he wanted. It was only his successors who were restricted to entering once a year, on Yom Kippur, and only then as the representative and personification of Aharon. (This concept is portrayed in the “Atah konanta” description of the Avodas Yom Kippur, recited by nussach Sefard.)

In such cases the children of Aharon are called bnei Aharon hakohen. Aharon is the machshir, the one who provides the license, to subsequent kohanim gedolim as well as kohanim hedyotim (plain priests) to perform their respective service in the Tabernacle and Temple. The Ramban (Bamidbar 8:1) comments that the mitzvah of lighting the menorah was given specifically to Aharon. Even though kohanim hedyotim could also light the Menorah, they were permitted to do so only because Aharon did it before them and they were following suit.

Nesiyas kapayim was another mitzvah where Aharon himself was indispensable. Why do kohanim recite in the blessing that they are sanctified “bikdushaso shel Aharon,” instead of saying that they are sanctified with kedushas kehunah? Because the mitzvah of nesiyas kapayim was given specifically to Aharon, and through him to his descendants in perpetuity. They represent him when performing this mitzvah. Since Aharon alone was given the mitzvah of nesiyas kapayim (and his children through him) and not Moshe, Moshe could not join Aharon in birkas nesiyas kapayim. Therefore the first blessing of Birkas Kohanim was restricted to Aharon. Therefore they offered a different blessing.

Was this second blessing given voluntarily or were they somehow required to bless the people at that point?

It would appear that this was an obligatory blessing on the part of Moshe and Aharon. We find a similar obligatory blessing based on the daily morning korban tamid. The Mishnah (Tamid 32b, Brachos 11b) tells us that in the times of the Mikdash, the kohanim gathered early and the appointed leader would tell them to recite a blessing paragraph, then Kriyas Shema and then an abbreviated Shemoneh Esrei that included Retzei and Birkas Kohanim/Sim Shalom. In the times of the Temple the blessing of Retzei concluded with sh’oscha l’vadcha b’yirah vaavod. This blessing was said after offering the morning korban tamid as supplication that the korban should be accepted. This prayer was to mitigate the potential rejection of the sacrifice.

korbanos can and have been rejected. For example, we find that Hashem rejected the korban of Kayin. We find (Vayikra 26:31) that Hashem promised that he would not accept the korbanos of the people if they sin and not follow His laws. There is no guarantee that Hashem will accept a korban. Therefore a Jew must pray and ask Hashem to accept his korban. The kohanim prayed in the Mikdash that the tamid should be accepted, just as Moshe and Aharon blessed the people with “Vehe Noam,” a prayer that Hashem should accept their korbanos.

Why don’t the kohanim pray for the acceptance of the korban before they actually do the Avoda, instead of reciting their prayer after it? We learn from the prayer of Moshe and Aharon that followed the sacrifices noted in Parshas Shemini that there is a requirement to pray after the offering of the korban. The prayer of Moshe and Aharon was more than a personal prayer. It was the prayer on behalf of klal Yisrael, as the representatives of klal Yisrael, that the korbanos that were just brought by Aharon should be accepted. That prayer was therefore offered only after Aharon performed the service.

We find a similar concept with the anshei ma’amad, who served as the representatives of klal Yisrael and prayed in conjunction with the daily service in the Temple. While one group represented the people in prayer in the Temple area, other groups gathered in various cities to offer prayers coincident with the time of the sacrifice. All these groups fulfilled the requirement of prayer on behalf of those for whom the korban was offered, that it should be accepted.

The concept of prayer for the acceptance of our sacrifices can be found in our Shemoneh Esrei. Twelve of the middle thirteen blessings focus on our personal and communal needs. We ask for wisdom, health, sustenance, etc. The last blessing in the middle section is Shema Koleinu, which is followed immediately by Retzei, asking for acceptance of our Avodah and return to the Temple.

At first glance, these two berachos appear to be redundant. However, on closer inspection we find that they serve vastly different purposes. Tefillah fulfills two aspects: prayer and korban. Shema Koleinu is recited after one concludes his prayers for personal as well as communal needs. We describe Hashem as the ultimate listener and recipient of our prayers. However, He may not always accept them or grant our request. We conclude the middle section with Shema Koleinu, asking that the ultimate accepter of prayer accept and answer our supplications favorably.

From the other perspective, tefillah is called avodah sh’beleiv – it is essentially a korban. The subsequent blessing of Retzei (which is associated with the acceptance of korbanos) asks that not only should Hashem accept our tefillos as prayer and supplication, but as the ultimate korban.

In other words, we ask that Hashem accept our avodah sh’beleiv as tefillah and supplication in Shema Koleinu and then we ask that it also be accepted as sacrifice, korban, in Retzei. There is no duplication. Both aspects of avodah sh’beleiv are distinct and required.

About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at ravtorah1@gmail.com.


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