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Vayikra/Leviticus 9:22 And Aharon lifted his hands to the people and he blessed them
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The Hebrew verbs of this phrase are quite routine: the verb - the Qal 3ms prefix form with a vav conversive, from the root , to lift or raise - gives us the next sequential event in a narrative sequence. After he had made the wave offering of the bull and the ram that were the peace offering for the people (see verses 9:18,21), Aharon lifted his hand(s) towards the people. The second verb - the Pi'el 3ms prefix form with a vav conversive and a 3mp object suffix, from the root , to kneel, worship or bless - gives us the next step: after he had lifted his hand(s) towards the people, he blessed them. Exactly how many hands he lifted, however, is uncertain. The word in the text above - - although both the Masoretic and the BHS texts faithfully reproduce it, must be wrong. The MT has a dot over the dalet and a margin note: (with a second yod), which would be the normal plural - his hands - while the singular would be - his hand. TheMasoretic Text seems to preserve the pointing of the plural, while having the consonants of the singular. Traditionally, it is read as plural, following the example of "Lift your hands toward the sanctuary and bless the L-RD" (Psalm 134:2, JPS) or "I bless You all my life; I lift up my hands, invoking Your name" (Psalm 63:5, JPS). Targum Onkelos and the Septuagint both render it plural: hands. Levine tells us that "raising the hands was a characteristic gesture of prayer, directed toward G-d, whereas here Aharon faced the people and raised his hands over them as he blessed them."
How did Aharon bless the people? Rashi and Ibn Ezra both maintain that Aharon raised his hands for the priestly blessing - although if the Torah is deemed to be in sequential order, this has not yet been given - Nachmanides suggests that Aharon simply offers a personal prayer for the people without using a particular set form of words, as Solomon did during the dedication of the Temple: "Then Solomon stood before the altar of the L-RD in the presence of the whole community of Israel; he spread the palms of his hands toward heaven and said, "O L-RD G-d of Israel, in the heavens above and on the earth below there is no god like You ..." (1 Kings 8:22-23, JPS). The Sages of the Talmud (b. Sotah 38a) connect this verse with the commands given in "Speak to Aharon and to his sons, saying, 'Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel ..." (B'Midbar 6:23), "At that time the L-RD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the L-RD, to stand before the L-RD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day" (D'varim 10:8, NASB) and "For the L-RD your G-d has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes, to stand and serve in the name of the L-RD forever" (D'varim 18:5, NASB), to teach that the priestly blessing must always be said standing, with arms raised towards the people, and that that obligation is incumbent upon all priests through all generations.
TheBaal HaTurim goes a step further and, drawing upon the rest of the verse - "Aharon lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them; and he stepped down after offering the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the offering of well-being" (Vayikra 9:22, JPS), explains that Aharon blessed the people with three blessings corresponding to the three types of offering that Aharon had made. The first blessing corresponds to the sin offering, "The L-rd bless you and keep you" (B'Midbar 6:24) from sin, as it says "He guards the steps of His faithful" (1 Samuel 2:9, JPS). The second blessing, "May He shine upon you" (B'Midbar 6:25) corresponds to the burnt offering as it is stated, "when you go up to appear before the L-RD your G-d" (Shemot 34:24, JPS) because the same verb - , to go up - names the burnt offering and the verb - , to see - is used for "to shine" and "to appear". The third blessing, "and give you peace" (B'Midbar 6:26) corresponds with the peace offering, because it ends with the word from the same root as peace offerings.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch concludes by saying that the blessing of the people is deliberately juxtaposed with the details of the offerings in order to show that the two are inseparably linked in the service and worship of G-d. The same Torah commands the bringing of offerings - to bless G-d - and the blessing of the people. He writes that the offerings to G-d are incomplete without the blessing and that the blessing may not be made without the offerings: "Only as a result of the preceding worship/service are the blessings expressed in it to be achieved, and only in association with the worship/service may the priestly blessing be said."
Here then we see some of the background to Yeshua's words, "So if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24, CJB). Having matters between brethen, a lack of peace within the body, a leaving of hurts or offences unresolved, makes an offering impossible because the blessing cannot flow with it. In the run-up to the commandment that Yeshua cited as the second greatest - "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Vayikra 19:18), the Torah tells us, "Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won't carry sin because of him" (v. 17, CJB), while John writes, "Anyone who claims to be in this light while hating his brother is still in the dark" (1 John 2:9, CJB), or put another way, "If anyone says, 'I love G-d,' and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen, then he cannot love G-d, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20, CJB).
Our worship of G-d, then, is tied up in our relationships with our family and our friends, our congregation, our work-mates and even those we only touch in passing (such as taxi or bus drivers, shop assistants, medical staff). If we cannot bless others, then our worship to G-d is incomplete, no matter how loud, fervent or ecstatic it might be. Turned the other way round, our worship to G-d must flow out in blessing to others. Just as Aharon had not finished making the offerings until he blessed the people, so our worship is not complete and accepted in G-d's sight until we bless those around us; the two are inextricably linked.
How should we bless others? In the same three ways as the Aharonic benediction. Like the sin offering, we should watch out for others and guard them from sin, particularly by not causing them to stumble over something that we say or do; like the burnt offerings, we should lift them before the L-rd and encourage them to enter His presence and deepen their relationship with Him; and like the peace offering, we should act as a peace-maker towards them, allowing them to feel and experience peace in our homes, helping them to find peace with G-d, and - where and as appropriate - helping them to reach peace with their neighbours and families. Above all, say words of peace over them and into their lives.
Further Study: Luke 24:50-15; Romans 12:9-10; 1 John 3:17
Application: How do you bless the people around you and that you come into contact with each day? Understanding that our worship to G-d is incomplete without blessing others, how can you bring a sweet sound of worship to the L-rd's ears today?
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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