Dear Mishpochah in Yeshua,
A God-Given Benediction
We want to share with you this month the oldest biblical text ever found, dated around the late 7th to the early 6th century B.C., 400 years older than the biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This special portion of the Holy Scriptures, discovered by archaeologist Gabriel Barkay while excavating a burial cave in Jerusalem’sHinnom Valley, was found on two tiny silver scrolls. When scientists unrolled the scrolls, they found the words of Numbers 6:24-26:
“The LORD bless you and keep you,
Y’varech’cha Adonai v’yeesh’m’reicha.
יְבָ רֶ כְ ָך יְיָ וְ יִ שְׁ מְ רֶ ָך.
The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
Yaer Adonai panav eleicha veechooneka.
יָאֵ ר יְיָ פָּ נָיו אֵ לֶ יָך וִ יחֻ נֶּךָּ .
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Yeesa Adonai panav eleicha v’yasem l’cha shalom.
יִ שָּׂ א יְיָ פָּ נָיו אֵ לֶ יָך וְ יָ שֵׂ ם לְ ָך שָׁ לוֹם.
These are the words of the blessing that the God of Israel told Moses to give to Aaron and his sons. As the High Priest, they were instructed to pray a prayer given by God Himself—the only such prayer in the entire Bible. (Yeshua’s prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 is a model of how to pray more than an actual prayer.)
This prayer of blessing has a few names. In Hebrew it is the Birkat Kohanim (Beer-KAHT Ko-ha- NEEM). In English it is called the Priestly Benediction, the Priestly Blessing, the Aaronic Benediction, or the Beautiful Benediction. It was given to Israel while in the wilderness, but today it is pronounced by descendants of Aaron, Kohanim (Ko-ha-NEEM) of priestly lineage at special times in the diaspora: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. In Israel, however, the Birkat Kohanim is said daily in the synagogue. It is, in fact, the only remaining functional link between the present day synagogue and the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Twice a year, at Pesach and Sukkot, a mass Priestly Blessing takes place at the Western Wall. Tens of thousands of people gather for this impressive event, receiving this historic blessing from hundreds of descendants of Aaron. Before pronouncing the Priestly Blessing, today’s Kohanim recite in unison: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love.” It is the only “mitzvah” in Judaism whose accompanying blessing must be performed “with love” (b’ah-ha-VAH).
An Individual Blessing
Although the Aaronic priests were told to pronounce the Birkat Kohanim over the Children of Israel, the blessing is phrased in the singular “you.” It is a personal blessing, addressed to the needs and desires of the individual. It is the blessing of a loving God and Father to each of His children. In this short blessing, the name of God is mentioned three times, emphasizing the fact that all blessing comes from the Lord. He, rather than the Kohanim, is the source of all goodness and blessing. The New Covenant says the same thing in James 1:17, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
The Hands of the High Priest
The Kohen Gadol (Ko-HEN Gah-DOLE), or High Priest, as the only one who could pronounce the Priestly Blessing over God’s people, was traditionally required to do it barefoot (based on Ex. 3:5), fasting, and holding his cleansed hands in a specific gesture (based on Lev. 9:22). This became known as Nesiat Kapayim (Neh-si-AHT Kah-pa-YEEM), Lifting Up of the Hands.
While pronouncing the blessing, the Kohen would spread his fingers apart, placing his thumbs together to represent the Hebrew letter shin. Shin is also the letter on the mezuzah and stands for El Shaddai, God Almighty. According to Jewish tradition, the divine presence would shine through the fingers of the High Priest as he blessed the people. Therefore, no one was allowed to look at him during the blessing, out of respect and awe of the power of the Almighty. If you have ever seen the TV program Star Trek, you have seen the hand gesture of the Jewish Kohanim. Leonard Nimoy adapted it from his childhood synagogue experiences and called it the Vulcan salute: “Live long and prosper!” (An accurate translation of part of the Birkat Kohanim!)
The Purpose of the Priestly Blessing
Numbers 6:24-26 is followed by a final verse that explains God’s ultimate desire in having His priests confer the blessing: “So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27). What name? First, we need to consider the Hebrew concept of “name,” shem in Hebrew. The word shem is related to ne-shama or “breath.” One’s name, therefore, is connected to one’s very being, character, worth, or reputation. Names are very important in Hebrew! A name can make you what you are. If God places His name upon His people, He places His very being upon them, His character and authority, His power and presence.
The name used in the biblical text of Numbers 6:24-27 is the sacred tetragrammaton, Yod Hey Vav Hey, יהוה ,which is used in the Old Covenant Scriptures more than 6,500 times. This refers to the one true God of Israel and is translated as “LORD” in our English bibles. The sacred name of God ceased to be pronounced around the 3rd century B.C., since no one knew exactly which vowels were used in the Name, and the Jewish rabbis did not want to risk desecrating the Holy Name. This is the same reason given for writing God as G-d.
Today, when Orthodox Jews come across the sacred tetragrammaton, they substitute the Hebrew word Adonai (Ah-doe-NYE—”Lord”) for יהוה .Some Orthodox Jews won’t use Adonai, but substitute HaShem for the sacred name. There are a number of extreme positions taken today by people (usually non-Jews) who insist that they know how to pronounce the sacred name. Some maintain that YHWH is YeHoVah. Others insist it is YaHWeh. Therefore, when they pronounce the Birkat Kohanim, they insert these names. Most traditional Jews and Messianic Jews that we know use Adonai: “Y’vah-reh-kh’khah Ah-do-nai…” We refuse to get into a debate on this issue, and choose to allow God to have some mysteries. What we do know is that with God’s name comes an impartation of all that He is—the Great I Am of Exodus 3:13-14, the Source of all being, in Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh.
Structure and Language of the Blessing
The Birkat Kohanim is a 3-fold benediction. In Hebrew, the three sentences contain 3, 5, and 7 words, the number of words increasing along with the divine favor proclaimed in the blessing. Some rabbis point out that if we extract the three times that God’s name is mentioned, there are 12 words in the Birkat Kohanim, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Hebrew, the original language of the Priestly Blessing, has multiple layers of meaning for most words. Words which are abstract in English have concrete meanings in Hebrew. Words such as “bless,” “keep,” “face,” “shine,” “gracious,” and “peace” have a depth of meaning in Hebrew that goes beyond the surface meaning. We will see this as we present a d’rash, an interpretation of the text.
“The LORD bless you and keep you.”
The word for bless in Hebrew is barakh, which literally means to kneel down. It is related to berek, which is knee. This is a picture of the Great God of the Universe, the Creator, bending down to touch His children with His loving hands. God humbles Himself to bless those He loves. Love comes down to bless. Love came down a ladder at Bethel. Love came down on Mt. Sinai to bless Moses and the children of Israel. God’s love as a Father blesses His children by coming down to our level. That’s exactly what He did in Yeshua the Messiah. He made Himself available to us by coming down to earth—to bless all mankind.
A beautiful picture of barakh (bless) in the Brit Hadasha is Yeshua at the Last Passover, kneeling to wash the feet of His talmidim (tahl-me-DEEM), disciples. He was giving them the gift of Himself, of His love while showing them the way to serve others.
“The LORD bless you and keep you” can be looked at as a blessing in the physical realm, physical, bodily blessings. This first level of blessing includes the idea of God watching over, protecting, and keeping His children safe from harm. The root Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar, which literally means to hedge about with thorns. The image painted by this word is of a sheepfold in the wilderness. The shepherd would erect an enclosure of thornbushes for his sheep to keep out predators such as wolves. The sheep were protected and guarded from harm.
We are the sheep that Adonai wants to protect. Our Good Shepherd places a hedge of protection around us. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God of Psalm 91:1, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Yahweh who blesses is also the One who keeps—our Refuge and Fortress, the God in whom we trust.
“The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.”
This second part of the Birkat Kohanim includes increased blessing. We move from the physical realm to the realm of the soul. The Amplified Bible translation of verse 25 expands on the idea of mental and emotional blessing, “The Lord make His face to shine upon and enlighten you and be gracious (kind, merciful, and giving favor) to you.” What does it mean to have Adonai’s face shining on us? His glory? His Presence? His smile? Face in Hebrew is panim, a plural word, which actually refers to one’s entire being as revealed in the face.
The God of Israel desires that His children seek His face. “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ My heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek'” (Ps. 27:8). Our God wants us to experience Him in all His many-faceted wonder. He has emotions. He deeply loves us yet hates sin. He is complete in Himself, yet desires to have intimacy with His creation. He shone His face upon Jacob in a wrestling match, which ended in a blessing. He makes His face shine upon us through Yeshua, the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3).
The idea of shining is connected with ohr אור , Hebrew for light. In the Birkat Kohanim, when God’s face shines upon us, light overwhelms darkness. Order is brought out of chaos, as in Genesis 1:1-4. We are enlightened and receive revelation. We are transformed (2 Cor. 3:16-18). The face of Adonai also radiates divine favor—unmerited favor. While Yahweh was giving the Ten Words to Moses on Mt. Sinai, His people were making a golden calf to worship. Great grace! Unconditional love. Gracious in Hebrew is khanan, literally to show favor to. It also means to be merciful, exhibit compassion, be considerate of, or demonstrate a longing for. God’s rebellious, imperfect people did not deserve the Priestly Blessing, but God gave it to them anyway. That is because of who He is: Gracious (Ex. 22:27, Ex. 34:5-6). Each time the Israelites turned away from the Lord. He promised to treat them with mercy and compassion if they returned. “…for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (2 Chr. 30:9).
“The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
This third part of the Priestly Blessing deals with the spirit of man and ends with the highest blessing in the Hebrew mind: shalom (peace). One Jewish commentator called peace “the most precious, though unfortunately most elusive attainment within the reach of man.” The word for peace in Hebrew is shalom, which literally means completeness or wholeness. It comes from the root word Shalam, to make restitution or amends, to restore and make even better than the original state. This final part of the blessing lets us know that Yahweh longs for His people to be made whole, with all His heart and all His being.
Shalom in the Hebrew understanding is much more than the absence of conflict. It is rest, tranquility, prosperity, health, and an overall sense of well-being. It is the God of the Bible redeeming our past, restoring what the enemy has stolen. Those of us who have received the Messiah Yeshua, the Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, have peace with God the Father through Him. We have been born again by the Spirit of the Living LORD. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Yeshua HaMashiach…” (Rom. 5:1).
Giving and Receiving the Birkat Kohanim
We have a High Priest in heaven, Yeshua the Messiah, who is of an even higher order than Aaron. He is an eternal Kohen Gadol, after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10). Through Him, in His Name, we can pronounce the Priestly Blessing, even over ourselves. Every week at our temple services, the Birkat Kohanim is pronounced as we gather as a mishpochah (family). We have been doing this for 42 years, since beginning Temple Aron HaKodesh, and we must say that we have experienced all three parts of the blessing, over and over again.
There was one time in all these years of pronouncing the Birkat Kohanim that was somewhat unusual. We were at the airport in Eilat, Israel, following one of our Mercy Mission trips. Four of us had been to Petra, then Eilat, and were returning to Tel Aviv. Security was questioning us extensively as if we were suspicious. I (Jamie) decided to let them know that we were “okay.” I looked at the security guard and said, “Look. I just need to say one thing to you.” Then, I spoke the Priestly Blessing in Hebrew. He quickly said, “Let them pass.” We don’t suggest that you try it. But it worked!
Yeshua’s Final Blessing
Following His resurrection from the dead, Yeshua was with His talmidim for forty days. Then He went with them to the Mount of Olives before ascending into heaven. The Bible tells us that He lifted both hands and proclaimed a blessing over them. It is believed that the blessing He pronounced was the Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, followed by: “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Lk. 24:52). May joy be your portion as you give and receive the Priestly Blessing in the Name above all names, the name of Yeshua, the Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace, our New Covenant High Priest.
P.S. We will be in Israel when you receive this letter. You can still send love gifts by calling the office at 1-800-293-7482. While in Israel, we will distribute your donations to our Mercy Mission outreaches. Your prayers are deeply appreciated for anointing, guidance, and good health.Thank you!