December 8, 2023
December 8, 2023

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Not Just Praying for Peace

As Jews, we are often subject to attack and have had many seek to deny us the right and the ability to defend ourselves. We seek the fulfillment of the comforting and strengthening words of the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing taught in this week’s parsha (6:22-27): “May God bless you and keep you; May God shine His radiant countenance towards you and favor you; May God turn His countenance towards you and establish peace for you.”

The words of this blessing describe exactly that which we seek, safety, peace, and—at the heart of it—a clear sense of connection to our attentive and protective God. Yet, while this is what we seek from God, is there anything that we, ourselves, can consider doing to gain those blessings?

Before the Kohanim share this blessing with us, they make a bracha of their own, blessing God Who infused them with the sanctity of Aharon—the original Kohen—and commanded them to bless His people with love. This is the only mitzvah for which we note that we are expected to perform it with love. Indeed, a version of the Sifrei in our parsha notes the unusual form of the instruction to the Kohanim—where they are told “amor lahem,” rather than the expected “emor lahem”—implies that they must convey these blessings with a full heart.

The Zohar—cited by Magen Avraham (128:18)—declares that a Kohen who does not feel love for his fellow Jews is not allowed to bless them, as he does not meet the criteria of blessing His people “with love.”

This blessing cannot be conveyed out of a sense of duty. It can only flow from true love felt by the Kohen, the descendant and the disciple of Aaron who—as described in Pirkei Avot 1:12—“loved and pursued peace, loved people and brought them close to Torah.” We gain God’s blessing of safety, peace and connection when we first share those feelings and blessings amongst ourselves.

Our country, our society and even our community has been riven by tension and disagreement. We must find it within ourselves to turn to each other b’ahava—with genuine love and care—and do our part to restore to each other that sense of safety, peace and connection. That will be the foundation upon which God will grant us the fullest blessings of peace.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union (OU), the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.

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