Priestly Blessings and Dreams
We begin with an admission. This week’s parsha review is a repeat -mamish- of what was disseminated in 2014. Vus epes a repeat? Shoin, this week the Oisvorfer was busy writing a few speeches for others including one in Yiddish and time ran out on him. Enjoy!
Efsher you have memories of your father covering you with his talis during duchening and warning you not to look at the kohanim lest something giferlich, like losing your eyesight, befall you. Efsher you recall him covering you but you no longer recall why. On the other hand, zicher you recall your father warning you to curtail another activity, if you chap, lest you go blind. Avada you all know what the Oisvorfer is referring to and guess what? Seemingly, besides zera levotola, one can also lose some eyesight while being bentched (blessed) by the kohanim. Is that emes? Seemingly yes and this week, we will explore this mitzvah which gets little play in the parsha and is mostly overshadowed by the intriguing case of the Soita (the woman suspected of chapping outside the marriage). Ober ershtens…..
Here we are, back at Parshas Nosi, the undisputed king of all parshas with 176 long pisukim. If you’re habitually late but leave the house at the same time weekly, chances are you’ll catch more than half the parsha and why would you want to miss the annual reading describing the Soita, the woman suspected of having illicit relations and the procedure she is put through if she doesn’t fess up? It’s quite the amazing prescription for either gloom and doom or great blessing, both supernatural events that rely totally on the RBSO’s intervention. As to the parsha, it’s taka long and long is avada better than short, if you chap, but as you know from the past, it is not boring. In fact, es-iz-azoy-lang (it’s so long), there is a shtikel danger, though to date, no such cases have been reported, that you may run out of loshoin horoh or rechilus to discuss with your chaverim during kriyas hatoirah. A broch mamish (a disaster)! On the other hand, not to worry: poshit giredt (simply stated): loshoin horoh (badmouthing) and gossiping, like a few other items mentioned in the heylige siddur, including Peah, Bikurim and Gimilas Chasadim, has no limits. Shoin!
In fact, most of you are mamish so enthralled by the Soita, you may have forgotten or never knew that the parsha has other givaldige topics. We have previously covered the uncovered Soita, if you chap, and if you click right here http://toirahruv.com/nossi-2013/ you can read all about her, and what many say is the original source for a married woman to cover her hair. The reading is gantz gishmak.
Lommer unfangin towards the very end of rive-e, the fourth aliya, the part you never get to because you’re out in the hallway discussing the latest loshoin horo or out setting up the kiddish club. This year, we’ll take a look at Birchas Koihanim or as some of us orthodox Yiddin call it- duchening.
What is duchening and what is a duchen? Ershtens some needed background: The longstanding tradition of duchening (Priestly Blessing) is rooted mamish in our parsha (Bamidbar 6:22-23, 27) where the RBSO instructs Moishe to tell Aharoin HaKoihen and his sons that they will serve as His instruments to bless the Yiddin by reciting a three-part benediction. The format of the process and the actual words to be used while bentching the Yiddin was told to these Koihanim. Grada the brocho is gantz gishmak (pretty good) and covers the acquisition of possessions and their protection, the granting of knowledge and spiritual abilities, and the use of the RBSO’s societal rules to achieve harmonious living. The original ברכת כהנים was part of the service performed by the Kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of hiding under one’s talis while receiving this blessing and how that minhag got started and why some turn their backs on the good Koihanim whose job it is to bentch us, ver veyst.
Says Rabbi Shamshon Refoel Hirsch: the blessing has no magic formula or spiritual force of its own. Its power and efficacy lies in the mutual efforts of the blessing-givers and the blessing-receivers. The Koihen cannot bless the people unless the people invite him to do so. This has been institutionalized in synagogue practice by the loud call from the congregational representative, inviting the Kohanim to issue the blessing. It also is symbolized by the dictation of each word by the chazzan leading the davening, to be echoed by the Koihen as he blesses the congregation.
Says the Seder Oilam Rabbah, (a chronological work ascribed to the second-century tanna, Reb Yoise ben Chalafta) azoy: the very first Birchas Kohanim was recited on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, less than a year after the Yiddin left Mitzrayim. And ever since, Kohanim throughout the world, have been benching the Yiddin and fighting for position on the duchen, near the Oroin Koidesh.
And what is a duchen? Though you’ve been referring to it ever since you were a young child, mistama you never knew that duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Orin Koidesh. Who knew that the word duchen actually refers to a platform? Mostly no one ober here in the Oisvorfer’s weekly parsha review, we learn new things kimat every week; gishmak mamish. So happens that the Oisvorfer didn’t know this either. Back when the Beis Hamikdash stood, the duchen was represented by the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Koidesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash.
Bazman hazeh (in our times), the duchen is where the rabbi and other administration people sit and from where the kohanim duchen and give us their priestly blessings. Shoin, and that’s why this mitzvah is called duchening. Of course if your shul does not have a duchen, the floor in front of the Orin is also good enough.
As mentioned above, we all have memories of being covered completely by a talis during duchening and warned when we were younger, not to look at the kohanim lest something giferlich, befall us. So happens that just last night one of the Oisvorfer’s boys, grada the only one without prescription eyewear, admitted that he has, over the years, peeked at the Koihanim during duchening. Is this allowed? Can one taka lose some eyesight for peeking while being bentched by the kohanim? Seemingly yes or maybe not. And taka says the heylige Gemora (Chagigah 16a) azoy: looking at three things can dim a person’s eyesight: a rainbow, a nasi (prince) and the Kohanim when they stood on the duchan and bentched the Yiddin with the Tetra grammaton (Shem Hamefoirosh). Of course not everyone agrees that looking at these three things can lead to blindness and taka the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch do not cite the first two in their legal codes. They do, however, agree that looking at the kohanim during duchening can lead to reduced vision. Is it taka emes that one can mamish go blind from taking a peek at the koihanim? Is that emes today? There is some good news and relief: Seemingly, only those who peeked at the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash itself, way back when, were affected.
And taka today, in our times, most agree that peeking and even looking at the koihanim does not affect one’s eyesight. As to the other activity, if you chap, ver veyst, though many chaverim do, since high school, wear very strong prescription eyewear, if you chap. And taka, most agree that other activities can affect eyesight especially if your father pokes your eyes out. So happens that Rashi maintains that even nowadays and even here in Golus (diaspora) without the holy Temple, the Gemora’s warning is still in effect, and looking at the Kohanim may result in the dimming of one’s vision.
Ober while losing one’s sight may no longer be a great concern, seemingly, most commentators agree that one should not look at the Kohanim while they duchen. Ober taka why not? Nu, like most things in our beautiful and colorful religion it depends on who you ask.
Says the Zoihar, and who knew better, azoy: There is a mystical notion that the Shechinah (divine presence) is present during duchening and avada one can lose not just eyesight but life altogether by looking at the Shechina. The Kaf Hachaim and the Rosh (Megillah 24b) agree. One does not mess with the Zohar and zicher one doesn’t not take chances with the Shechina. Case closed! No more looking.
Ober says Toisfis (Chagigah 16a) that looking at the Kohanim during duchening is forbidden for another reason having nothing to do with blindness or diminished vision: we should not look because it distracts one from paying attention to the actual brocho we are receiving. The Beis Yoisef and Mogen Avraham agree. And says the Mogen Avrohom: the actual prohibition is not against mere “looking” but against staring since staring can lead to hesech hada’as (a loss of concentration and focus) whereas an occasional glance would not. In other words: a quick peek seems to be OK. But is it? Ober even he concludes that the minhag today is not to even glance at the Kohanim since in the Beis Hamikdash, glancing was forbidden. If this is pshat, we refrain from any kind of looking because of zecher l’Churban (in remembrance of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash).
And what’s the bottom line? In our times, can we chap a peek, a glance, look or even stare? Must we turn around as do at least some, even though the heylige Gemora (Soita 38a, based on our parsha) tells us mamish that that a brocho must be given and received face-to-face? And taka wrote the Yaavetz back in the 1700s that “one should not do like the amei ha’aretz [the ignoramuses] who turn their backs on the Kohanim because they are afraid of the Talmudic dictum regarding losing vision. There is no blindness of intellect greater than this.” Take that! As an aside, and for the same reasons, he condemns the custom of covering one’s face with a talis during duchening.
Though the Oisvorfer does not paskin shaylois (issue rulings) unless they involve things slipped into his mailbox for inspection, if you chap, seemingly the proper response is to face in the direction of the Kohanim, look down, and concentrate on the words. And taka so says the heylige Gemora (Soita). Furthermore, those standing to the side of the Kohanim should be sure to face them rather than the front of the shul.
Shoin: we’re tif (deep) into this sugya (topic) of duchening, let’s look at two other duchening minhogim that are the subject of some discussion.. Altz-kint (as a youngster) under the tata’s talis, the Oisvorfer has vivid memories of the Tata chanting the little words that follow each blessing. Ober are we supposed to be doing this? Are we supposed to say the words, look at the words, stare at them or look away? Nu, that too depends on who you ask. Some say that reciting the words is an erroneous custom. And taka says the Ramoh, based on the heylige Gemora (Soitah 39b-40a) that it is inappropriate to recite these verses. The Mishnah Berurah likens those who recite the verses to a person who receives a blessing while distracted. And in order to avoid losing one’s concentration, one should not learn or engage in any other activity during the Priestly Blessing. Is that emes?
Maybe and maybe not because there is always an exception to every rule and certainly there are many who say farkert (opposite). Many do agree that there taka is one exception where we are supposed to recite certain words during the duchening. It so happens that the duchening contains a special tefila (prayer) for the rectification of bad dreams. Dreams and duchening?
Says the heylige Gemora (Berachos 55b) azoy: A person who had a dream that requires interpretation, but does not know whether the dream bodes well, should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening. More specifically, it says azoy: If one has seen a dream and does not remember what he saw, let him stand before the koihanim (priests) at the time when they spread out their hands to say the priestly benediction.
Seemingly the Shulchan Aruch (130:1) agrees. Ober what is the connection between dreams and Birchas Koihanim? Says the heylige Gemora: when someone dreamed something he can’t interpret, he may recite this dream prayer during the duchening and ask the RBSO to turn the outcome of his dream for the good. Seemingly the Birchas Koihanim is a powerful blessing that can turn bad dreams into good.
Said Shlomo Hamelech (Koheles 5:2; Brochois 55b-56a) azoy: most dreams are insignificant and are generated by one’s thoughts during the day. That would zicher account for at least a portion of the Zovim that are also dishonorably mentioned in this week’s parsha. Not just are they mentioned (see Perek Hey- possik 2) but the RBSO ordered them out of the camp until they dried out and cleaned up. Avada you recall that just a few weeks back, we were introduced to the zov and zovo, they the male and female discharges of some semen type liquid from their bodies that renders them impure. On the other hand, there is a concept that dreams are 1/60th of prophecy (Brochois 57b). Commentators explain that just as full prophecy would come to the prophets in the form of a special type of dream, so too, in the time when there is no prophecy, semi-prophetic messages can be conveyed by a dream. Back then, to a prophet, it was abundantly clear that he was receiving a prophetic transmission and what its meaning was. And though a dream is but 1/60th of real prophecy, it could be more powerful than a regular one and, if one is shaken emotionally by it, then it might be a sign that it should be taken seriously. What to do about such dreams?
Said Reb Yoichonon (Brochois 55b) azoy: One who had a dream which depressed him should have it interpreted by three people. Have it interpreted? Didn’t Rav Chisda say that an uninterrupted dream is like an unread letter [in other words, it will be less likely to have an effect]? Rather, what was meant is that he should go to three to ‘improve it’ (hatavas chalom).” Moreover, we are taught that one may even fast on the heylige shabbis (typically forbidden) after experiencing a bad dream.
Nice, ober what is the relationship between 1/60th and duchening and prophecy? Nu, let’s tie it all together so gishmak. Pshat might be that koihanim might be achieving full prophecy while they are duchening. And that could taka be the reason we shouldn’t be looking or staring at them; seemingly the divine presence may be on them during the duchening. And since dreams are but 1/60th of a prophecy, the bad dream that one experiences might be nullified within the Priestly blessing according to the well-known and accepted principle of –botel bishishim (nullified in sixty); that is, permissible so long as the forbidden ingredient constitutes no more than 1/60th of the whole.
Noch a mol (one more time). We say a prayer for dream rectification during duchening because a dream is 1/60th of real prophecy. The koihanim achieve full prophecy –mamish a 60 on the prophecy scale during their duchening, and the bad dream becomes nullified because it is botel bishishim. Is this gishmak or what? And because they are receiving prophecy at this time, we are not allowed to look at them or their hands; seemingly the Shechina ( Divine Presence) rests among them.
As to the prayer itself that most of you have never looked at, let alone recited, says the heylige Gemora, it goes like this “Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not know what it is- whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yoisef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them like Moishe healed the bitters waters of Marah and as Miriam was healed from her tzaraas and as Chizkiyahu was healed from his illness and as the waters on Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as you changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so to change all my dreams for goodness.”
Said the Vilna Gaon: this prayer is so powerful, it should be recited at the end of all three blessings rather than reciting the “Yehi Rotzoon” that is printed in most siddurim. On the other hand, some say that when it comes to bad dreams, the best advice is to train oneself not to take dreams too seriously.
In the end, the brochos we receive during duchening seem to have some magical power that can turn bad into good and that is the purpose of the prayer for the dreams. What prayer? Nu, next week, over the great and joyous Yom Tov of Shovuois when you will hear the Birchas koihanim twice (once, over in the Holy Land), check out the special prayer for dream rectification and recite it; it’s quite nice.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv