1. Psul Shanim of Leviyim
  2. Birchas Kohanim



“מבן שלשים שנה ומעלה ועד בן חמשים שנה” (ד:מז)

Rashi explains that the “avodas avodah” is shir with mitzaltayim and kinoros, and “avodas masah” is as it sounds (i.e. the carrying).  This a stirah, apparently, to what Rashi says in Behaaloscha.  Over there (8:25) when the pasuk says that at age 50 the Levi no longer does avodah, Rashi says that this pesul shanim only applies to the avodah of carrying on his shoulders, but he returns (as the pasuk says), to closing the gates, shir, and loading up the wagons.

The Ramban, there, argues with Rashi and says that it is clear from the Sifri that pesul shanim disqualifies a Levi from shir as well.  The Sifri Zutah is mevuar like Rashi, though.

But what is about the stirah is shitas Rashi?  In Behaaloscha he clearly says that pesul shanim does not apply to shir, whereas by us here in parshas Nasoh it is clear that he is saying that pesul shanim does disqualify a Levi from shir?

The Meshech Chochma, in Behaaloscha, says a teirutz that it is only from shirah b’kli that Rashi holds the Levi becomes disqualified when he turns 50, but shirah b’peh not.  It is  meduyak like that in Rashi because he says the “avodas avodah” is shir b’mitzaltayim v’kinoros.

Another possible, straightforward teirutz is as follows.  Parshas Nasoh is dealing with the tallying up the numbers of the Leviyim that are now going to be inaugurated for the avodah for the first time.  It is a one-time event of chinuch ha’Leviyim la’avodasam.  The pasuk in Behaaloscha, on the other hand, is talking about after the Leviyim have already been inaugurated and are in service – and is delineating their mandatory retirement age.

So the chiluk, then, is pashutRashi here in Nasoh is telling us that no Levi over the age of fifty was taken mi’lechatchila to be inaugurated for the avodas ha’Leviyim.  If he was already 50 when it came time for the Leviyim to be counted and inaugurated, he would not be included – not even for shirRashi in Behaaloscha, though, is talking about a Levi who was already inaugurated and in service, just that subsequently he reached the mandatory retirement age of 50.  So from what is it that he is required to retire?  Only from the avodah of masah b’kaseif.

(Audio Recording, available here:


“דבר אל אהרן ואל בניו לאמר כה תברכו את בני ישראל” (ו:כג)

The Bahag counts the mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim in his minyan ha’mitzvos in addition to his list of parshiyos.  Some say that the reason for this is that the Bahag holds like the shitah of the Rambam that even b’gvulin the mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim is d’Oraysah, so one is for the mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim in the Mikdash and one is for the mitzvah b’gvulin.

Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow wrote a pirush on Rav Saadya Gaon’s minyan ha’mitzvos.  It’s incredible, he locked himself away for twenty five years and wrote on the entirety of Torah.  They say that Rav Saadya Gaon didn’t really write a seifer ha’mitzvos, Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow did!  When I was young his seifer was famous.  He says that the Bahag is going like the Seifer Chareidim who holds that in addition to the mitzvah on the Kohanim to be mevarech, there is a mitzvah on Yisrael to be misbarech – some say only if you’re already part of a tzibur, but not that you davka have to go out of your way to hear Birchas Kohanim – in other words, the bracha needs a tzibur upon whom to be chal.  So, l’fi zeh, the Bahag counts two mitzvos because one is for the Kohanim and one is for the Yisraelim who are being mekabeil the bracha.  Together it is a combined, enhanced kiyum of the mitzvah.

There is a zilzul in Birchas Kohanim which is painful to see, when people open up a seifer during Birchas Kohanim.

You know, the tzedaka organizations are always coming up with ever-more exotic places where they will have the Gedolim mention donors names in their davening there, and it’s obvious that these gimmicks work.  People go for it because they want the koach ha’bracha and teffilah.  It is bizayon norah of kavod ha’Torah – the likes of which generations past never saw – that the Gedolei Yisrael should have their pictures appear in all these pamphlets.  The reason they go along with it is because they are so devoted to the mitzvah of tzedaka.  It’s a tremendous mussar haskeil.  And I am not discouraging taking advantage of these offers.  By all means, call up, give them your credit card number, and get a bracha.  You could give the tzedaka without giving your name, though, and that’s even better because it’s tzedaka lishma.

But, in any event, people go for this because they want the bracha.  Well, Birchas Kohanim is the Aibeshter’s bracha!  The Kohanim are the conduit, but it is the Aibeshter’s brachava’Ani avarecheim.  And it’s free!  In addition to that, according to the Seifer Charedim and possibly the Bahag, it’s mamash a chiyuv gamur, a mitzvah d’Oraysah!  Close the seifer and just stand there and listen.  By just standing there and listening you are being mekayeim a mitzvah d’Oraysah and getting a gevaldikeh bracha!

Rabbeinu Bachayei says that the word koh is a remez that this is the twenty fifth of the matnos kehuna.  Even though it’s b’etzem the Aibeshter’s bracha, the koach to be the conduit for that bracha is a tremendous matanaKohanim should appreciate what they have

From “amor lahem” the Gemara darshens that the Shaliach Tzibur has to be makri the Kohanim.  Some have a diyuk in the Rambam that the Kohanim should say the first word, yevarechecha, immediately without the Shaliach Tzibur being makri them that word, in order that it shouldn’t be a hefsek between their birchas ha’mitzvah and the maaseh mitzvah.  But that there is a dinah d’Gemara for the Shaliach Tzibur to be makri is clear.

I always thought that this task of the Shaliach Tzibur is like plain work, just a heichi timtzah, but Rabbeinu Bachayei says a haflidikeh chiddush – that the bracha comes down from Shamayim to the Shaliach Tzibur who is wrapped in a white tallis, and from him to the Kohanim, and then from the Kohanim to the tzibur.  So we see that, aderabah, the Shaliach Tzibbur is the highest madreigahHafleh v’feleh!

Rabbeinu Bachayei also brings the shitah of the Ri Ha’Zakein who holds that a Kohen only begins to duchen once he is married.  Without his bas zug he is not shaleim and is not fitting to be mevareich.  Some say that l’fi zeh that is the pshat in why Nadav and Avihu were punished for not marrying, because they therefore were not able to engage in Birchas Kohanim.  Another fascinating shitah is the Raavad in Maseches Tamid who holds that even a married Kohein cannot duchen when his wife is a nidah.  Apparently, the pshat is that this inyan of Birchas Kohanim is a higher madreigah and when there is any tumah in his bayis he is not fitting to be mevareich.  Even though we don’t do like these shitos, al kol panim we see clearly that Birchas Kohanim is serious business!

Another fantastic facet of Birchas Kohanim is in the Seifer Ha’Pardes from Rashi.  Either from talmidei Rashi, or Beis Midrasho shel RashiB’kitzur, from Rashi.  In Hilchos Rosh Ha’Shana he says the following.  After takanas Rabi Avahu that we blow three sets of tashrat, tashat, and tarat, and we also have two times that we do this set – tekios d’meyushav and tekios d’meumad, which he holds was also part of takanas Rabi Avahu, the total number comes out to sixty.  This corresponds to the sixty letters of Birchas Kohanim, and each of these sixty are the shishim giborim saviv lah…kulam achuzei cherev (Shir Ha’Shirim 3:7-8).  Even in the golah where Kohanim do not duchen, there still is this koach of shishim giborim, because the pasuk says ha’shochein itam b’soch tumosam – once Klal Yisrael were exiled the Shechina is with them b’chol makom.  This is accomplished by the Shaliach Tzibbur saying Elokeinu v’Elokei avoseinu barcheinu ba’bracha…and the pesukim of Yevarechecha, etc.  Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu agrees with the Kohanim and silences the Satan.

You see from this – from Rashi! – that every letter and every word of Birchas Kohanim is a weapon that delivers a powerful blow against the Satan v’chayalosav, the same way tekias shofar does – which is more effective than a sword.  Also, you see that it is not just a zeicher what the Shaliach Tzibur does in chutz la’aretz, rather it effects the same koach of shishim giborim.

Both the Beis Ha’Levi and the Netziv quote a certain chacham echad – I think it was Rav Shlomo of Vilna, the Cheishek Shlomo – who holds that one Kohein can say the Birchas Kohanim and the rest of the Kohanim can be yotzei with shomeiah k’oneh.  The Beis Ha’Levi writes that if it would be true it would be a tremenouds revach in the Mishna in Brachos about which nobody knows pshat.  The Mishna says that the one who is maftir b’navi is poreis al Shema and is nosei kapav.  He gets rewarded with this package deal.  But what’s pshat in nosei es kapav?  All the Kohanim duchen?!  L’fi this chacham echad, though, it’s talking about the Kohein who gets the zechus to be motzi all the other Kohanim in the mitzvah.

However, both the Beis Ha’Levi and the Netziv are docheh this chiddush and say that it is incorrect, and that a Kohein cannot be yotzei with shomeiah k’oneh.  The Beis Ha’Levi says the reason is that we learn from “amor lahem” that Birchas Kohanim has to be b’kol ram, out loud like one speaking to his friend, and shomeiach k’oneh – which is not heard by the tzibur – is not better than a whisper.  If a Kohein with terrible laryngitis would get up there and duchen it would be a bracha l’vatalah.

Some learn up pshat in the Beis Ha’Levi based on the famous chakira if shomeiah k’oneh is as if he acutally said it, meaning the dibur of the oneh is misyacheis to the shomeiah; or if it is only k’oneh, not that he is as if he said it, but that he just gets the kiyum of the mitzvah by listening.  They say that the Beis Ha’Levi meant like the second tzad of the chakira, and that is why you don’t have kol ram.

The Netziv in Meishiv Davar, siman 47, brings the Beis Ha’Levi, although not by name, and rejects that reason because krias ha’Torah amd krias Megillah also has a din that it has to be b’kol ram, and yet you are yotzei with shomeiah k’oneh.  The Chazon Ish in Orach Chaim, siman 29, also discusses this issue, more elaborately.  The pshat that comes out l’fi the Netziv and the Chazon Ish is that Birchas Kohanim is a din teffilah, and teffilah one cannot be yotzei with shomeiah k’oneh, because each individual needs to daven himself.

In Brisk, they learn pshat in the Beis Ha’Levi differently; that it is not taluy on the chakira.  It’s not that there is no volume to the shomeiah k’oneh, it’s that from “amor lahem” we learn out that b’kol ram is the tzuras ha’maaseh, literally the posture of this mitzvah.  By krias ha’Torah and krias Megillah it’s a din that the words have to be read, and how do they have to be read? – out loud mi’toch ha’kesav.  So the listener gets that kriah though the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh.  By Birchas Kohanim, though, b’kol ram k’adam ha’medaber im chaveiro is not just how the words have to be said, it is the actual maaseh of Birchas Kohanim.

The yeshivisheh reid of the velt takes this chakira a step further and says that is the pshat in the machlokes Rashi Tosafos if you should stop to listen to kedusha if you are still in the middle of shmoneh esreiRashi holds you stop and listen, and there is a deiah in Tosafos who says you cannot do that because it’s a hefsek.  The velt says Rashi is going like the tzad that it is not k’oneh mamash, it’s just a kiyum of the mitzvah, so there’s no hefsek; whereas Tosafos holds it’s k’oneh mamash so it is a hefsek.

They say that Rav Chaim told Rav Baruch Ber, “tracht anderish”.  It doesn’t mean you have to be different; but think differently.  My grandfather thought differently, and he worked it out.  He said pshat in the machlokes is not taluy on this chakira.  Rather, it’s a shailoh of whether or not being yotzei kedusha in the middle of shmoneh esrei is a hefsekDibur is not the only thing which can be a hefsek; a maaseh can also be a hefsek.  People who are quiet between hamotzi and eating but are doing all sorts of sign language are being mafsik b’maaseh.  So, no matter how you explain shomeiah k’oneh, it’s simply a question of if the maaseh of being yoztei with shomeiah k’oneh in the middle of shmoneh esrei is a hefsek or not.

(Audio recording, available here.)

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