Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l On the Parsha


By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

מבן שלשים שנה ומעלה ועד בן חמשים שנה    ד:מז 

The pasuk refers to two types of avodah that the Leviyim were tasked with: avodas avodah and avodas masa.  Rashiexplains that “avodas avodah” is shir b’mitzaltayim v’kinoros – playing musical instruments such as cymbals and harps to accompany the singing, and “avodas masa” is exactly what it sounds like – carrying the various parts of theMishkan as they traveled through the Midbar.  Taken alone in the context of the pasuk, it sounds like a very straightforward statement: both forms of avodah carry the limitation that only Leviyim between the ages of 30 and 50 are eligible.  However, what Rashi says in Behaaloscha (8:25) poses a serious difficulty: when the pasuk says there that at age 50 a Levi is no longer allowed to perform avodahRashi says that is only regarding the avodah of carrying the parts of the Mishkan when in transit in the Midbar, but he returns (as the pasuk says there), to the tasks of closing the gates, song, and loading up the wagons.  This certainly seems like an outright contradiction!

Parenthetically – before we address this contradiction – it is worthwhile to note that the Ramban argues with Rashiand says that it is clear from the Sifri that pesul shanim (the age limit) disqualifies a Levi from the avodah of song as well.  If you’ll look in the Sifri Zutah, though, you will see that Rashi’s opinion finds support there.

The Meshech Chochma, in Behaaloscha, resolves these seemingly contradictory statements by positing that Rashi inNaso is only referring to shirah b’kli (playing the musical instruments) – regarding that, the age limitation applies; and when Rashi in Behaaloscha says that a Levi over 50 can engage in shir, he is talking about the actual singing.  This answer indeed fits very well with Rashi’s precise choice of words here in parshas Nasoshir b’mitzaltayim v’kinoros.

Another possible, straightforward solution is as follows.  Parshas Nasoh is dealing with tallying-up all the Leviyim that will now be instated – for all generations – as those who carry out the enumerated tasks in the Mikdash.  It is a one-time, inauguratory event: 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.
That being the case, we can readily understand the dichotomy.  Rashi here in Nasoh is explaining that no Levi over the age of 50 was part of the inauguration of avodas ha’Leviyim.  If he was already 50 years old when it came time for the Leviyim to be counted and inaugurated, he was not included.  Period.  Therefore, he could not do any avodahwhatsoever. Behaaloscha, though, is talking about a Levi who was already inaugurated and is in service, and is delineating the mandatory retirement age, which is 50.  Rashi is explaining there that this 50-year-old mandatory retirement age is only insofar as the avodah of carrying is concerned, but does not apply to the other forms ofavodah such as closing the gates and being part of the musical performance.
(Audio recording available here)


 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 Rambam that the mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim is d’Oraysaeverywhere – 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 25 years and wrote on the entirety of Torah.  Some pithily say that it isn’t Rav Saadya Gaon who wrote a sefer ha’mitzvos, but Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow!  When I was young his sefer was famous.  In any event, he says that the Bahag holds like the Sefer Chareidim that, in addition to the mitzvah on the Kohanim to bless, there is amitzvah on Yisrael to be blessed (some say only if you’re already part of a tzibur, but not that you have to go out of your way to go hear Birchas Kohanim).  In other words, the bracha needs a tzibur upon whom to take effect.  TheBahag counts two mitzvos, then, because one is for the Kohanim who have to give the brachos, and one is for theYisraelim who are to receive those brachos.  Together it is a combined, enhanced fulfillment of the mitzvah.

It is unfortunately not too uncommon that people behave in a cavalier manner when it comes to Birchas Kohanim, for example when someone looks in a sefer during Birchas Kohanim instead of paying attention.  It is painful to see.

You know, tzedakah organizations are always coming up with ever-more exotic places where they will have theGedolim daven for donors there, and it’s obvious that these gimmicks work.  People go for it because they want to tap into the power of bracha and teffilah.  It happens to be a horrific affront to kavod ha’Torah – the likes of which generations past never saw – that Gedolei Yisrael should have their pictures appearing in all these pamphlets. They go along with it because they are so devoted to the mitzvah of tzedakah – which itself should serve as a tremendous lesson for us about the importance of tzedakah.  Do not misunderstand – I do not discourage anyone from taking advantage of these offers.  By all means, call up, give them your credit card number, and get a bracha.  You could also give the tzedakah without giving your name, and that’s even better because it’s tzedakah lishmah.

In any event, people go for this because they want the bracha.  Well, Birchas Kohanim is Hashem’s bracha!  TheKohanim are the conduit, but it is Hashem’s bracha – as the pasuk says: va’Ani avarecheim.  And it’s free!  In addition to that, according to the Sefer Charedim and possibly the Bahag as well, it’s a full-fledged obligation to listen attentively, a mitzvah d’Oraysa!  So close the sefer, just stand there, and listen.  By just standing there and listening you are fulfilling a mitzvah d’Oraysa and getting a tremendous bracha!
Rabbeinu Bachayei says that the word koh – whose gematria is 25 – indicates that this is the 25th of the matnos kehuna.  Even though it is really Hashem’s bracha, the power to be the conduit for that bracha is a tremendous gift. Kohanim should appreciate what they have.

From the words “amor lahem” the Gemara darshens that the Shaliach Tzibur has be makri – to say each word aloud for the Kohanim who repeat it after him.  Some say that the Rambam implies that the Kohanim should say the first word (yevarechecha) immediately without the Shaliach Tzibur saying it first for them, in order that it shouldn’t be an interruption between their birchas ha’mitzvah and the beginning of actually performing the mitzvah.  So perhaps the precise parameters of this halacha can be subject to discussion, but that the Shaliach Tzibur is required to be makri is clear.

I always thought of this task of the Shaliach Tzibur to be makri as grunt work – it needs to be done but there isn’t really much to it.  But listen to this incredible chiddush of Rabbeinu Bachayei: the bracha comes down fromShamayim to the Shaliach Tzibur who is wrapped in a white tallis, and from him to the Kohanim, and then from theKohanim to the tzibur.  So we see that, on the contrary, it is the Shaliach Tzibur who is the highest madreigah.  Hafleh v’feleh!

Another interesting point Rabbeinu Bachayei makes is in citing the opinion of the Ri Ha’Zakein who holds that aKohen only begins to duchen once he is married.  Before then, he is incomplete and thus not fitting to bless.  Some say that this is why Nadav and Avihu were punished for not marrying, because they were therefore unable to performBirchas Kohanim.  Another fascinating opinion is the Raavad in Maseches Tamid who says that even a married Kohencannot duchen when his wife is a nidah.  Apparently, the reason for this is that Birchas Kohanim is a function of a highmadreigah, and when there is any impurity in his home, he is not fitting to bless.  Even though we don’t pasken like these opinions, we can clearly see from them that Birchas Kohanim is serious business!  A very lofty endeavor.

Another fantastic facet of Birchas Kohanim is elucidated in the Sefer Ha’Pardes of Rashi.  Sefer Ha’Pardes was either written by the immediate talmidim of Rashi, or perhaps later followers of Rashi.  Either way, Sefer Ha’Pardes is rightfully attributed to Rashi.  And in Hilchos Rosh Ha’Shana it says the following. Rabi Avahu enacted that we blow three sets of shofar blasts: tekiah-shevarim/teruah-tekiah, tekiah-shevarim-tekiah, and tekiah-teruah-tekiah. And we blow these three sets twice (tekios d’meyushav and tekios d’meumad).  The total number of individual sounds, then, comes out to 60.  This corresponds to the 60 letters of Birchas Kohanim.  Both the 60 sounds of the shofar blasts onRosh Ha’Shana and the 60 letters of Birchas Kohanim are what the pasuk in Shir Ha’Shirim is referring to when it talks about the 60 mighty, sword-bearing warriors (3:7-8).  Even in the diaspora – where Kohanim do not duchen – there still exists this power of the “60 mighty, sword-bearing warriors” because the Torah says ha’shochein itam b’soch tumosam – that the Shechina accompanies Klal Yisrael wherever they are exiled.  This is accomplished by theShaliach Tzibur 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.

So we see – 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 that tekias shofar does!  Further, we see that what a Shaliach Tzibur says in chutz la’aretz is not just a zeicher so they don’t forget about Birchas Kohanim, rather it carries the same power of the “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 Kohen can recite Birchas Kohanim and the rest of the Kohanim can fulfill their obligation by listening to him through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh (one who listens is as if he said it).  TheBeis Ha’Levi writes that if it would be true, it would solve the mystery of the Mishna in Brachos that says that the one who reads the Haftarah also gets to be poreis al Shema and nosei kapav.  He gets rewarded with this package deal.  But what does it mean when it says that he gets to be nosei kapav?  All Kohanim duchen?!  According to this chacham echad, though, we can say that the Mishna means that if it was a Kohen who read the Haftarah, he gets to be the one who duchens out loud while all the other Kohanim fulfill their obligation by listening to him.

However, both the Beis Ha’Levi and the Netziv reject this assertion and say that it is incorrect: a Kohen cannot fulfill his obligation of Birchas Kohanim through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh.  Why not?  The Beis Ha’Levi says the reason is that we learn from the words “amor lahem” that Birchas Kohanim has to be b’kol ram, out loud like one speaking to his friend.  A Kohen “saying” Birchas Kohanim through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh – which thetzibur obviously does not hear – is certainly no better than a whisper!

Some understand this explanation of the Beis Ha’Levi based on the well-known discussion if the mechanism ofshomeiah k’oneh makes it is as if the listener actually said the words (meaning, the dibur of the oneh is misyacheis to the shomeiah), or if it is only k’oneh, not as if he actually said it, just that he just gets the fulfillment of the mitzvah by listening.  They say that the Beis Ha’Levi held like the latter position and that is why he holds fulfillment throughshomeiah k’oneh would lack the requirement of being out-loud.
The Netziv in Meishiv Davarsiman 47, mentions this statement of the Beis Ha’Levi, although not by name, and rejects it.  He says that krias ha’Torah and krias Megillah also have to be out-loud, and yet everyone listening is fulfilling their obligation through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh!  So we see, says the Netziv, that shomeiah k’oneh is not a contradiction to the requirement of audible utterance.  So that cannot be the reason why Kohanim cannot fulfill their mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim by listening to one Kohen duchening for everyone.  The Chazon Ish in Orach Chaimsiman29, also discusses this issue, more elaborately.  The idea that emerges from the Netziv and the Chazon Ish is thatBirchas Kohanim is included in the general category of teffilah, and when it comes to teffilah one cannot utilize the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh since each individual needs to daven for himself.

In Brisk, however, they understand the Beis Ha’Levi differently from what is generally said about it.  In Brisk they insist that the Beis Ha’Levi’s statement that shomeiah k’oneh lacks audibility has nothing to do with the discussion of the nature of how shomeiah k’oneh works.  It’s not that there is no volume to shomeiah k’oneh, rather it is that what we derive from the words “amor lahem” – that Birchas Kohanim has to be said out loud – is the tzuras ha’maaseh, literally the posture of this mitzvah.  By krias ha’Torah and krias Megillah the words have to be read – and how must they be read? – out loud from words that are written down properly.  Therefore, one listening to krias ha’Torah orkrias Megillah gets credited for that reading through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh.  By Birchas Kohanim, though, out-loud is not just how the words have to be said, it is the very act of Birchas Kohanim.

Parenthetically, it is commonly understood that this discussion of how shomeiah k’oneh works is the basis for themachlokes between Rashi and Tosafos if you should stop and listen to kedusha when in the middle of shmoneh esreiRashi holds you stop and listen, and Tosafos says you cannot do that because it’s interrupting your shmoneh esrei.  Most say that Rashi is going like the proposition that it is not k’oneh mamash, it’s just a fulfillment of the mitzvah, so there’s no hefsek; whereas Tosafos holds it’s k’oneh mamash so it is a hefsek.

They say that Reb 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 that this machlokes between Rashi andTosafos is not contingent on the shomeiah k’oneh discussion.  Rather, it’s a question of whether or not fulfilling the mitzvah of kedusha in the middle of shmoneh esrei is a hefsek. Speech is not the only thing which can be a hefsek; an action can also be a hefsek.  For example, someone who is quiet between hamotzi and eating but does all sorts of sign language is being mafsik b’maaseh.  So, no matter how you explain shomeiah k’oneh, it’s simply a question of whether or not the activity of fulfilling the mitzvah of kedusha in the middle of shmoneh esrei through the mechanism of shomeiah k’oneh is a hefsek or not.

(Audio recording available here)


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I once approached Rav Twersky to ask a very involved question pertaining to a certain Rashi on the sugya.  My question left me completely stumped as to how to understand how Rashi’s explanation fit into the Gemara.  Rebbi got excited and said, “Rav E.M. Horowitz brought in the Kovetz Mefrashim asks precisely your question!  He was a contemporary of Reb Chaim and a giant of Torah.  When you find a question of yours put forth by someone like that, you know that what you asked is a good question, that you have a real problem to work out!”
(Reb Yoni Ash)

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