Bless you!

The priestly blessing is a Divine mandate, and as such its power is infinite.

Priests participate in mass priestly blessing. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Priests participate in mass priestly blessing.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
From Numbers 6:23 the Talmud infers that the recipient of the blessing has an active role: “‘Say unto them’ – as two friends talk, face to face.”
In fact, the Talmud states that the recipient must ensure that no outside stimuli distract from receiving the blessing and even obligates a response while being blessed. The Talmud also mentions that the congregational prayer leader must invite the priest to give the blessing.
According to one opinion, if one had a dream and does not know what he saw, he should say the following at the time of the priestly blessing: “God, I am Yours, and my dreams are Yours... Whether I dreamed about myself or about others, or they about me – if it was good, strengthen it... If it needs curing, cure it... Just as you changed Balaam’s [intended] curse to a blessing, change all my dreams for my good.”
From this we see that the recipient is not just a vessel to receive the priestly blessing but an active partner in its fulfillment.
From Scripture it seems that a nonpriest is not allowed to recite the priestly blessing. However, during our daily morning services, when a priest is not available the custom is that the congregational prayer leader recites the blessing. To harmonize the common practice with Scripture, the non-priest does not recite the official benediction prior to the blessing. This custom of nonpriests reciting the priestly blessing extends also to fathers blessing their children on Sabbath evening.
In “Thus shall you bless” (Numbers 6:23), “Thus” could be interpreted to mean that the blessing should be recited using only the words and language presented as is. Hebrew is rich in idiom and connotations and each word contains a multitude of meanings; hence, translations can lose some of the original context.
We tend to associate blessing with prayer, but there is a difference. The Hebrew for blessing is bracha, a word that shares its root with l’havrich, meaning “to join.” A blessing is the joining of the Source above with the person below. By contrast, prayer awakens a new will.
The priestly blessing is unusual in that it contains both of these elements. It is a traditional blessing, arousing the Above to manifest itself below, yet it is recited in the context of prayer, which gives the blessing an additional advantage.
The priestly blessing can do this because it does not originate with the priest, a finite human being, but with God. The priestly blessing is a Divine mandate, and as such its power is infinite and unrestricted, giving us blessing for material wealth, spiritual growth and God’s continued compassion toward us, forgiving our sins and giving us peace.