June 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I had a conversation about birkat kohanim that started with Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin and it ended with my father. Rav Dovid had just given a shiur where he discussed why we do not “bench kohanim” every day.

(Why don’t we?)

As Rav Dovid likes to say, “That, is for another shiur.”

(Rabbi Bashevkin didn’t answer that question?)

No, he did, but I won’t.

Birkat Kohanim or the Priestly Blessing is the raising of the hands of the kohanim to bless the congregation. When I was a kid, my shul rabbi, Rabbi Murry Grauer referred to it as “the benediction.”

We all refer to it as “ duchanning” (which is actually a Yiddish word for the “bimah” or the “platform”).

From underneath their tallasim, the kohanim bless the congregation with:

“May the Hashem bless you and keep you; May Hashem shine His face upon you and be gracious to you; May the Hashem lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

What are we being blessed with?

The Sifre said that when we stand before the Kohanim, we receive both a spiritual and material blessing. It is that spiritual blessing that the Sifre says we are always susceptible to outside dangers. The material that I worry most about is my children.

The Gamara in Kiddushin 29a, says that it is the responsibility of parents to protect their children from harm and to provide for their needs.

The Rambam writes in Hilchot Rotzeach Ushmirat Nefesh, that it is forbidden to put a child in danger, and that a person must take great care to protect children from harm. He also notes that it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that children are kept safe.

After the shiur, I told Rav Dovid that I see Birkas Kohanim as an opportunity to protect my children. I want to keep my children safe. All dads do, but we rarely get the opportunity to demonstrate this in the modern world.

A hundred years ago, our great grandparents had to worry about everything from murderous Cossacks in Russia to the gentiles in America who killed Jews like Leo Frank. That generation had to worry about finding a job that would not fire you for refusing to work on Shabbos to microbes like tuberculosis that killed my great grandfather.

Here in suburban New Jersey in 2023, my children play outside our house with impunity. I do not worry about my 11 year old when on Shabbos he walks down the block to his friend’s house for the afternoon.

(You don’t?)

Not anymore than I normally worry about my 11 year old. My 91 year old father still worries about me when I compete in an Ironman triathlon. He makes me call him afterward to make sure that I am OK.

(Nice to see how you were able to weave the Ironman into a non-athletic article.)

There are many things I do as a dad to protect my kids, just like my dad did for me in the 1970s. I taught them what he taught me, what his father taught him and his father before him. That wearing their tzitzis protects them when their father can’t be there. It’s the reason Yitzhak sent Yaakov to the Yeshiva of Shem and Ayver, to learn how to fulfill mitzvot outside their father’s house.

I taught my kids to look both ways when crossing the street, to wash their hands when leaving the bathroom and to lock the front door at night.

(How well do they listen?)

It’s a work in progress. They will grow into who they are supposed to be, just like I did.

Until then, I shall continue to remind them, and I will do the one thing I can still physically do to protect them. I will huddle them under my tallis during Birkas Kohanim.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

He can be reached at [email protected].

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