Shabbat Shalom: Wishing Blessings Upon One Another

Jun 1, 2023 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: Wishing Blessings Upon One Another

Jun 1, 2023

By: Julie Lieber, PhD
Chief Jewish Life & Engagement Officer

21st Century Judaism has done a pretty thorough job of excising many of the biblical practices that are no longer relevant in post-Temple Jewish life. On Yom Kippur we no longer cast our sins upon a goat and throw it off a cliff, and our Passover experience today does not center around sacrificing a lamb and has instead been replaced with family and friends gathering for a festive Passover seder. Yet, a few times a year, on some of the major Jewish holidays, I always marvel when an announcement is made in my synagogue asking the Levites and Kohanim (Priests) who are present to prepare for the Priestly blessing. Out walk the local Levite to wash the hands of the local Kohanim, who then reemerge a few minutes later (without their shoes!) to stand in front of the ark and bestow the priestly blessing on the rest of the congregation. This blessing, which appears in this week’s Torah portion, Naso and reads as follows:

May God bless you and protect you
May God shine the Divine Face towards you and deal kindly and graciously with you
May God lift up the Divine Face towards you and grant you peace

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ          יָאֵ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃  יִשָּׂ֨א יְהֹוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃

While the Levites and Priests in biblical times had specific roles and responsibilities related to sacrifices and Temple maintenance that have faded away, this practice of kohanim blessing the Jewish people has remained alive in contemporary Judaism. Not only has this practice endured through the priestly blessing ritual on holidays, it is also found in the blessing many parents give their children in their homes each Friday night, and it appears in countless amulets and artwork today.

While I am not eager to return to a Jewish life full of priestly sacrifices, I do love this moment in synagogue when children gather under their parents’ prayer shawls and community members hum along together as a community in this priestly blessing. These words convey our greatest hopes for feeling blessed, safe, loved, peaceful and connected to the Divine. Sometimes, when we don’t have the energy to manifest these feelings ourselves, it is helpful to have others – be they kohanim, parents, fellow community members, or a neighbors artwork – remind us that since ancient times, we have wished these blessings upon one another and continue to do so even today.

Please email Julie Lieber at with questions or comments.