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Gone Missing: The Daily Bircas Kohanim in Chutz La’Aretz

Rabbi Shimshon Nadel

Living in Eretz Yisrael, I am privileged to bless the Jewish People every single day — and on some days, more than once. But outside of the Land of Israel, aside from some Sephardic communities, Bircas Kohanim is performed only during the Yamim Tovim at Musaf. The obvious question is: Why isn’t Bircas Kohanim performed in the Diaspora daily? The following are some of the responses that have been offered over the centuries to that question.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

huge crowdRav Ephraim Zalman Margolios explains that the issue is the status of Kohanim today. Kohanim today are not meyuchasim — i.e., they do not possess a clearly traceable lineage back to the Kohanim who served in the Beis HaMikdash. Since their kehunah is based only on chazakah, he explains that the daily practice of Bircas Kohanim was stopped out of concern for brachah l’vatalah and the prohibition for a non-Kohein to perform Bircas Kohanim.[i] Nevertheless, he writes, we allow Kohanim to duchen on Yom Tov so that the “Torah of the Kohanim not be forgotten.”[ii] This will ensure that they don’t violate any of the currently applicable mitzvos of the kehunah, such as avoiding tumas meis. Rav Margolios adds that the present minhag, which was observed by the great Rishonim, is of ancient and impeccable pedigree and thus should be respected.[iii]

 

Tefillah

According to the Chasam Sofer, Bircas Kohanim is not performed daily due to the quality of our tefillah. He writes: “The whole week we are occupied with thoughts of livelihood and sustenance, and most of our tefillos are without kavanah and full of distraction. Tefillah without kavanah is like an unwanted korban.”[iv]

Tefillah today is in place of the avodah. Just as Bircas Kohanim required a proper avodah in the Beis HaMikdash, today it requires a proper tefillah. The Chasam Sofer therefore continues, “We bless on Yom Tov, when all are free to concentrate on their tefillah.”[v]

Similarly, Rav Moshe Shternbuch explains that as part of tefillah b’tzibur, Bircas Kohanim requires a minyan to pay close attention and answer Amen.[vi] Today, many people are distracted and do not pay close attention to the Chazaras HaShatz. For this reason, Bircas Kohanim is performed only during the Yamim Tovim, when “there are large numbers of people who are not distracted and we are sure that ten will listen.”[vii]

 

Simchah

The Rema offers the most famous justification for the current practice. He writes: “The custom in all of our lands is not to lift the hands [i.e., perform the ritual of Bircas Kohanim] except on Yom Tov, since we are immersed in the simchah of Yom Tov, and ‘one of glad heart should bless’ — as opposed to most days, even Shabbos during the year, when we are occupied with thoughts of livelihood.”[viii]

While many have accepted the Rema’s explanation,[ix] the following questions still require clarification: Do we find any other area of halachah in which a mitzvah is not performed due to preoccupation with parnassah? Were the previous generations, in which Bircas Kohanim was performed daily, less preoccupied with their livelihood? Are the Sephardim, or bnei Eretz Yisrael, who maintain the daily practice of Bircas Kohanim, less burdened by material concerns?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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