It is a biblical rarity that God commands and gives a prayer with a specified text. The priestly blessing with its three verses – 15 Hebrew words in a three, five and seven pyramidal sequence – is packed with legal and theological implications. Sourced in Numbers 6:22-27, the prayer structure has puzzled Jewish commentators for thousands of years.

From the standpoint of Jewish law, is the priestly blessing still obligatory today, even though there is no Temple? Second, is it only the priests who conduct the blessing, or do the recipients of the blessing have a participatory role as well? Third, is the priestly blessing reserved only for the priesthood, or can anyone use it? Finally, can one use a translated version of the text to bless the people, or is one restricted to uttering the prayer in its original Hebrew, since the words of blessing are nuanced in a way to fully give over the supplication’s impact? “In every place where I will cause My Name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you” (Exodus 20:21) is considered the source of the biblical obligation of priestly blessing in our day.

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