Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Benediction before the Priestly Blessing

The disciples of Rabbi Elozar ben Shamua asked him (Daf Yomi: Sotah 39a) : In reward of what have you been living so many years? He replied: In all my years, I never took a shortcut through a synagogue, and I never stepped over the heads of the holy people (when he went to his seat by passing through the students who sat on the floor; he either arrived first or sat outside), and I never recited the Priestly Blessing without first uttering a benediction.

The Rishonim ask: What is so great about uttering the benediction prior to reciting the Priestly Blessing? Doesn’t every mitzvah require a brocha beforehand? Every Kohen would recite the blessing first!

The Ritva in Megillah (27b) answers that perhaps Rabbi Elozar ben Shamua was teaching us that the Priestly Blessing requires a brocha beforehand, and that any Kohen who blesses Klal Yisroel and recites the benediction first will be blessed with long life.

The Meiri writes that a Kohen will discharge his obligation of reciting the Priestly Blessing even without saying the brocha beforehand. It is nevertheless an enhancement to the mitzvah, and because of that, the Kohen will merit living a long life.

Some commentators explain that he would say the Priestly Blessing several times during the day, and he never neglected to recite the benediction before each and every one.

The Meiri doesn’t agree with this explanation, for he says that one would be obligated to recite a blessing every time, and he would not warrant a reward for this.

The Radal suggests that perhaps other Kohanim maintained that a benediction is not required before the Priestly Blessing, even though an ordinary mitzvah necessitates a brocha. The reason for this exception is because the mitzvah itself is a benediction, and therefore it doesn’t require an additional blessing. This would be similar to the Grace after Meals, which is a blessing in itself, and therefore, it doesn’t require an additional blessing beforehand.