What can a Torah Jew do to better his chances for financial success? One way is to receive the Birchas Kohanim. The first of the three blessings is “Y’varechecha Hashem v’yishmarecha – May Hashem bless you,” which Rashi says means “with financial prosperity.”
But why are kohanim the ones to bless us with financial success on Yom Tov? Why not our pious Torah sages? After all, the Gemara tells us that if one, G-d forbid, has a sick person at home, “let him go to a Torah sage” and ask him to pray for him or her. Similarly we are taught, “Tzadik gozer v’HaKadosh Baruch Hu m’kaiyem – The righteous one decrees and Hashem fulfills.”
So, isn’t it a bit strange that 16-year-old Chaim Katz and his father who’s an electrician bless us on Yom Tov rather than the shul rav and the local rosh yeshiva?
Rav Volkin, the av beis din of Pinsk, offered an innovative explanation that answers this question. He said a necessary requirement of the blessing is that it be given sincerely and whole-heartedly. When Hashem gave Moshe the instructions related to the priestly blessings, he said, “Emor lahem – Say to them,” with the word “emor” written in full form (i.e., with a vav). Rashi explains that it’s written this way to convey the message that the blessings should be given “b’kavana u’bleiv sholeim – with full concentration and a complete heart.”
Rav Volkin asks, “Who has the most personal interest in Klal Yisrael being blessed with prosperity?” The kohanim, of course, since they have no portion in the land and no gainful employment other than serving in the Beis HaMikdash. Their entire livelihood rested upon the tithes and gifts they received from their brethren. Therefore, it’s in their best interest that Klal Yisrael see financial success and we can assured therefore that they’ll say the blessing of “yivarechecha” meaningfully and reverently.
The Chida in his sefer Pesach Einayim offers a totally different, and exciting, explanation from the Shach. He says that, years ago in Mitzrayim, Levi, the priestly tribe, exhibited such exemplary behavior with money that it was given the privilege to bless Klal Yisrael with financial prosperity throughout the ages.
He elaborates that when Hashem told Moshe that the Jews should take loans of silver, gold, and fancy clothing from the Egyptians (which they would eventually keep), the tribe of Levi declined to participate in this collection of wealth. They reasoned that since they weren’t enslaved by Pharaoh, they weren’t entitled to share in the booty which was taken as reparations for the harsh labor experienced by their brethren.
Says the Shach: Because they showed such integrity and willpower in denying themselves wealth and luxuries, they are the ones who shower financial blessings on Klal Yisrael throughout the generations.
There is yet another explanation for why the kohanim were given this privilege. First, let me share with you a basic question asked by the Panei’ach Raza. He wonders: Why is the priestly blessing necessary in the first place? If a person is righteous, the Torah says, “Im bechukosai teleichu…uba alecha kol habrachos – If you walk in my statutes, there will come upon you all blessings.” So, such a person doesn’t need the kohanim’s blessing since Hashem will bless him.
On the other hand, if he is wicked, the priestly blessing won’t help since the Torah states, “Im bechukosai timosu uvau alecha kol haklolos – If you detest My statutes, there will come upon you all these curses.” So who is the beneficiary of the priestly blessing?
The Raza D’Meir comments that perhaps the blessing is for the beinuni, the many intermediate average people. The Panei’ach Raza himself suggests that it might be for righteous people to ward off the curse of other peoples or to serve as a medium to help bring G-d’s blessing from heaven to earth.
The Bal HaAkeidah offers an different explanation. He argues that, of course, all blessings come from Hashem, but the kohen is not just saying a blessing; he’s reminding us that parnasah is from G-d. “Y’varechecha Hashem… Ya’er Hashem… Yisah Hashem…” Blessing, illumination, and favor in this world come only from Hashem.
The kohen reminds the congregation that they shouldn’t be misled into thinking that their financial success is from “kochi v’osem yodi,” their business savvy, their financial strategies, or their salesmanship abilities. Rather, it’s all from Hashem. Hence the words of the Torah right after Birchas Kohanim: “V’samu es shemi al Bnei Yisrael v’Ani avar’cheim” – your job is to place My name on B’nei Yisrael (reminding them it is I who helped them succeed), and I will bless them.
Now we can understand why the task of saying this blessing was given to the kohen. Since he didn’t work – he ministered to Hashem instead in the Beis HaMikdash – he wasn’t tempted to be think that any factor other than Hashem governs one’s success.
So in difficult financial times, let’s harness the power of the priestly blessing to further our fiscal prosperity and train our eyes to the One Above for the means to make our homes happy and prosperous both in ruchnius and gashmius, and may we live to see Moshiach tzidkeinu bimheira b’yameinu.