In this Parsha we learn about the Birkas Kohanim – the Priestly blessing. Even though it has only 60 letters, numerous commentaries on various levels of interpretation were written to it. Can we understand at least the general structure of this brocha?




As usual we will be brief just touching upon the most fundamental concepts. We will first discuss the general pattern of the blessings and then some of the concepts hinted by the letters themselves. There are three verses in the Birkas Kohanim and each one contains two blessings. Thus there are six general blessings: Yevarechecho – may Hashem bless you; Viyishmirecho – and safeguard you; Yaer – May He shine His countenance on you; Vichuneko – and be gracious to you; Yiso – may Hashem turn to you; Shalom – and give you peace. They correspond to the Sefiros[1] from Chesed to Yesod. The Birkas Kohanim finishes with: “They shell put My Name on the children of Israel and I shell bless them”. This statement corresponds to Malchus.


Thus, the six blessings of Kohanim together with the last statement correspond to the seven lower Sefiros, and appear in our many prayers in various ways. For example, we mention the same blessings in the last Brocha of Shmone Esre. We ask for Shalom, Tova, Brocha[2], Chen, Chesed and Rachamim. We also ask for the same brochos in the prayer Yale Vayavo recited on Rosh Chodesh and all holidays: Zachreinu Letova (Tova), Ufakdenu Livrocha (Brocha), Vehoshieinu Lechaim (Chaim), Chus (Chesed), Chanenu (Chen), Rachem Aleynu (Rachamim).


These blessings are also mentioned in a different way in the fourth chapter of Sefer Yetzurah (The book of Creation) and they are: Chochma (Wisdom); Chaim (Life); Osher (Richness); Memshala (Authority, Power); Zera (Seed, Children) and Shalom (Peace). They correspond to those letters of our alphabet that accept a “weak dagesh”[3]. We thus have the following arrangement[4]:


Birkas Kohanim:

Last Brocha of Shmone Esre:


Blessing in Sefer Yetzirah:


Brocha (blessing)


Chochma (Wisdom)


Chesed (kindness)


Chaim (Life)


Tova (goodness)


Osher (Richness)


Chen (graciousness)


Memshala (Authority)


Rachamim (compation)


Zera (Children)


Shalom (peace)


Shalom (Peace)


Thus the first verse of Birkas Kohanim corresponds to the “right” side of Hanhaga (Sefiros Chesed and Netzach), the second – corresponds to the left (Gevurah and Hod), and the third – to the middle (Tiferes and Yesod). Indeed, Zohar Chadash (to this parsha) mentions that the Cohen should turn to the right when pronouncing the end of the first verse, and to the left when pronouncing the second verse. When the chazzan gets to Birkas Kohanim during the repetition of the Shmone Esre many people have a custom to answer: “for the merits of Avraham our forefather” on the first blessing, “for the merits of Yitzchak our forefather” – on the second anf “for the merits of Yakov our forefather” on the third[5]. This is also consistent with what we wrote above, for Avraham is indeed from the “right” side of Hanhaga, Yitzchak – from the “left” and Yakov – from the “middle”[6].


Now, the total number of letters in Birkas Kohanim is 60[7]. The Mekubalim[8] write that these letters corresponds to the “expansions[9]” of the letters of our alphabet. The 22 letter alphabet “expands” to a sequence of 60 letters. There are three Divine Names in the blessing of Kohanim, one in each verse. Together with the three names containing 12 letters, there are 72[10] letters. This corresponds to the remaining 5 letters of the alphabet that are written differently in the end of a word (“Mem”, “Nun”, Tzadi”, “Pei” and “Chaf”). They expand to 12 letters. In general, from these three Divine Names comes out a 12 letter mystical Divine Name[11]. It was kept a secret and only certain Cohanim knew it and pronounced it quietly only in the Holy Temple[12]. Another mystical Name that comes out from Birkas Kohanim is called the 22 letter Name[13].


In our longtime exile, the prevalent custom of Ashkenazic Jews to only recite the Birkas Kohanim on holidays. Various reasons were offered to explain this custom, but none of them are fully satisfactory. Many great Rabbis wanted to change this custom and to institute in their synagogues the recitation of this blessing every day. However, they were not successful[14]. It seems that for some reason Hashem did not want to give us His full blessing every day in our prolonged exile[15]. However, in the land of Israel this blessing is recited every day, like the law of the Talmud[16]. And we will wait for the speedy redemption when we will come back to our land and receive the Divine blessings in abundance every day.



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[1] For further discussion about Sefiros, our articles Sevenblessings.htm and 10centuriesenglish.htm.


[2] In Nusach Sefard, “Chaim” (life) is also asked for. Thus according to Nusach Sefard, all seven Sefiros are mentioned in the brocha, while according to Nusach Ashkenaz, only the six that are part of the actual Birkas Kohanim.


[3] These letters are generally pronounced differently depending on whether they have a dot (dagesh) in them or not, for example “Beis”, “Veis” etc. However, today only in Yemenite accent the Gimel and Dalet are pronounced differently when dagesh is present. Note however, that the GR”A (in his commentary to Tikuney Zohar) states that the actual pronunciation of letters should not be different because of dagesh.


[4] See the GR”A to Sefer Yetzirah 4:4 and his commentary to the prayer Yale Vayavo.

[5] See Kaf Hachaim 127:20, see also Tur and Rokeach to Bemidbar 6:24-26.


[6] See our words to Parshas Vayera.


[7] The first verse has 15 letters, the second – 20 and the third – 25. There are three words in the first verse, five in the second and seven in the third.


[8] GR”A in Aderes Eliyahu, Parshas Naso.


[9] It is known that the “names” of letters of our alphabet are not arbitrary, but contain information about the letters themselves. The first letter is not called “A” but “Alef” – its’ name contains three letters “Alef “ – “Lamed” – “Fei”. Thus each letter can be “expanded” through writing out the letters of its’ name. Similarly, there are expansions of expansions. In this case, Alef expands to: “Alef “ – “Lamed” – “Fei” – “Lamed” – “Mem” – “Dalet” – “Fei” – “Yud”. In some cases, the same letter can be expanded in many ways, for example “Fei” can be expanded as “Fei” – “Yud” or “Fei” – “Alef” or “Fei” – “Hei”. All of these rules contain a lot of information, many of meditations of Arizal are based on various expansions especially of the Divine Names.


[10] Regarding the significance of number 72, see our words to Parshas Noach.


[11] See GR”A to Tikuney Zohar, end of the fourth Tikun regarding the various Names, including the 12 letter Name and the 22 letter Name.  See also our words to Parshas Vaera.


[12] See Talmud, Kiddushin 71a.


[13] There are 22 letters in the words Yevarechecho, Viyishmirecho, Yaer, Vichuneko, Yiso. The letters are permuted in various ways forming the mystical 22 letter Name (see GR”A in Yahel Ohr, 3:147a). This Name is also related to the combination of 13 letters “Yud” and nine letters “Vav” of Birkas Kohanim.


[14] See the story in Aliyos Eliyahu, see also Aruch Hashulchan 128:64.


[15] On the other hand, Sephardic Jews who were exiled primarily to the lands of a monotheistic religion do recite this blessing every day.


[16] See also Tshuvos Vehanhagos 1:130 that one can ask (or even hire) Cohanim in the Holy Land to keep him in mind when they bless the people.