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Sotah, 38

SOTAH 38 - dedicated by Dr. Moshe and Rivkie Snow to the memory of their mother/mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Leah Tilla bas Rav Yosef (Rabinowitz), the Manostrishtcher Rebbetzin. (Yahrzeit: 15 Teves)


OPINIONS: The Mishnah and Gemara discuss the Mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim. The Torah tells the Kohanim to bless the rest of the people. Is the Torah's Mitzvah directed only to the Kohanim (meaning that they have a Mitzvah to bless), or even to those who are being blessed (meaning that they have a Mitzvah to be blessed)?

The BI'UR HALACHAH (beginning of Hilchos Nesi'as Kapayim OC 128) cites the Sefer Charedim who writes that the Yisraelim who stand facing the Kohanim quietly with intention to receive the blessing like Hashem commanded, are included in the Mitzvah. The Sefer Hafla'ah in Kesuvos (25a), Meshech Chochmah (Parshas Naso), Minchas Chinuch (378) and other Acharonim understand from this that just like there is a Mitzvah for the Kohanim to give the Berachah, so, too, there is a Mitzvah for the Yisraelim to receive the Berachah. What is the source for the Mitzvah for Yisraelim to receive the Berachah?

RAV BARUCH WEISS in SEFER BIRKAS HORAI (1:9) suggests two possible sources. First, we find that TOSFOS (DH u'Kesiv) writes that every Korban Tzibur (such as the Tamid and Musaf) must be accompanied with Birkas Kohanim. It seems that Birkas Kohanim was a part of the sacrificial process of a Korban Tzibur. Since the entire Tzibur is obligated to see to it that the Korban is brought, even though it is the Kohanim who bring it, so, too, it is the obligation of the entire Tzibur to see to it that the Kohanim perform Birkas Kohanim when the Korban is brought. Since the Tefilos were instituted to correspond to the Korbanos Tamid (Berachos 25b), it might also be an obligation of the Tzibur to see to it that the Kohanim perform Birkas Kohanim at every Tefilah (the Rabanan disestablished the practice of Birkas Kohanim of Minchah; see Ta'anis 26a).

Alternatively, Abaye cites a verse "Emor Lahem" (Bamidbar 6:23) to teach that the Tzibur is supposed to request the Kohanim to go up to give the Berachah. This might be interpreted to mean that it is an obligation of the Yisraelim to have the Kohanim bless them. (See also Birkas Horai 8:17.)

(b) However, the RITVA in Sukah (31a) writes that it is not a Mitzvah for the Yisraelim to have the Kohanim give them a Berachah. The Mitzvah is only for the Kohanim to give a Berachah. (Based on this, he discusses why the prohibition of Bal Tosif does not prohibit the Kohanim from giving the Berachah to a second Minyan after they have given the Berachah to an earlier Minyan.) The MAGEN GIBORIM (OC 128) writes that the Ritva obviously disagrees with the Sefer Charedim, and therefore we should not rule like the Sefer Charedim (see DEVAR AVRAHAM 1:31 who attempts to reconcile the two views).

(c) The BIRKAS HORAI favors the opinion of the MAHARI ASAD (#46) who says that the Sefer Charedim did not mean to say that the Yisraelim are obligated to receive a blessing. He simply meant that when the Yisrael does what is necessary for the Kohanim to give him a Berachah (by facing them and listening to the Berachah), he is helping the Kohanim perform *their* Mitzvah, and therefore he also receives reward for the Mitzvah which he helped the Kohanim perform. (Even though the Kohanim can give a Berachah when there are no Yisraelim present, nevertheless when there are Yisraelim present they are supposed to face the Kohanim and accept the Berachah silently.) According to this, the Mitzvah is only incumbent upon the Kohanim.


OPINIONS: The Gemara says that a Kohen who does not go up to perform Birkas Kohanim transgresses three Mitzvos Aseh. Even if he goes up some of the time, such as on Yom Tov, as long as he does not go up every day he transgresses these three Mitzvos Aseh.

According to this Gemara, is there any way to justify the practice of those Kohanim who do not go up to perform Birkas Kohanim every day?

(a) The ROSH in Megilah (3:22) cites the Yerushalmi and rules that a Kohen only transgresses the Isur Aseh if he hears the Kohanim being called to perform Birkas Kohanim and he does not respond. If he walks out before the Kohanim are called up, then he does not transgress a Mitzvas Aseh. The TUR (beginning of OC 128) cites support for this from the Targum on the verse, "Emor Lahem..." (Bamidbar 6:23), who translates the words as, "*When* you tell them...," implying that the Kohanim are commanded to do Birkas Kohanim only when they are told to do so by being called up.

Although a Kohen who avoids being called up does not transgress an Aseh, nevertheless he does not fulfill the three Mitzvos Aseh of Birkas Kohanim. Therefore, there is still no reason for a Kohen to step outside when the Kohanim are called up in order to avoid having to perform Birkas Kohanim.

(b) The SHIBOLEI HA'LEKET, cited by the Beis Yosef, quotes the ruling of RABEINU YITZCHAK BEN YEHUDAH (a mentor of Rashi) who says that an Avel who is a Kohen -- as long as his Avelus still has Halachic significance ("as long as he is still sitting in a different place due to the Avelus," or thirty days for a relative and twelve months for a parent) -- should not be able to recite Birkas Kohanim, because Birkas Kohanim requires Simchah, and an Avel does not have Simchah. The REMA (OC 128:44) and the VILNA GA'ON write that his source is our Gemara which quotes the verse "Tov (Lev) [Ayin] Hu Yevorach" (Mishlei 22:9) and says that it should be read "Hu *Yevarech*" -- "he shall bless," meaning that he shall bless when he is happy.

Although the Rema accepts this ruling (OC 128:43), the BEIS YOSEF argues that there is no source in the Gemara for this, and therefore we should limit the exemption from Birkas Kohanim to the seven days of Avelus.

In any case, the Kohen who is an Avel should leave the synagogue before he is called to Birkas Kohanim, as mentioned above.

(c) RABEINU YITZCHAK BEN YEHUDAH (ibid.) extends the exemption from Birkas Kohanim to include an unmarried man ("Bachur"), based on the Gemara in Yevamos (62b) that says that a person who has no wife, has no joy. The RASHBA (Teshuvos 1:85) writes that although he never found a definitive source for this ruling, it might be based on a Midrash. Indeed, the Zohar cited by the MAGEN AVRAHAM (128:64) writes that the Shechinah does not rest upon a Bachur, and therefore a Bachur who is a Kohen should not perform the Avodah ("the Shechinah only rests on a person through the joy of a Mitzvah;" Pesachim 117a).

The Poskim reject the ruling of Rabeinu Yitzchak ben Yehudah based on the Gemaras which say that a Katan may perform Birkas Kohanim (under certain circumstances), even though he is not married. Nevertheless, the Rema (OC 128:44) writes that if a Bachur does not want to do Birkas Kohanim, then we cannot force him to, as long as he leaves the synagogue before the Kohanim are called up.

(d) The MAHARIL (Chadashos #21), cited by the Beis Yosef, was asked why it is that in much of Europe ("Ashkenaz") the Kohanim only performed Birkas Kohanim on Yamim Tovim. He suggested two sources for the practice. First, it is because some say that a Kohen must immerse in a Mikvah before performing Birkas Kohanim, and it was too difficult to immerse every day in most of Europe. Second, he says that doing Birkas Kohanim every day would cause "Bitul Melachah" and create a burden on workers who needed to be at work on time.

The BEIS YOSEF strongly rejects these reasons. Since Tevilah is not mentioned in the Gemara, why should that stringency -- the Chumra of immersing in a Mikvah before performing Birkas Kohanim -- cause one to annul the Mitzvas Aseh d'Oraisa of giving the Berachah. Moreover, the reason of Bitul Melachah is difficult to understand, because Birkas Kohanim does not take so much time that it should warrant this exemption. The Beis Yosef writes that, indeed, in all of Israel and Egypt the Kohanim performed Birkas Kohanim every day.

The DARKEI MOSHE, however, defends the second reason of the Maharil, explaining that Bitul Melachah does not mean a delay from working, but rather it means that in Chutz la'Aretz, people toil so hard to earn a living that they are not able to arouse the proper Simchah that is necessary in order to perform Birkas Kohanim. Even on Shabbos, their minds are so distracted by their past and future plans for earning a living that they do not reach the proper level of Simchah. The only time they are able to perform the Birkas Kohanim with the appropriate degree of Simchah is on Yom Tov, when the Mitzvah of "v'Samachta b'Chagecha" makes them truly joyful, enabling them to perform Birkas Kohanim with Simchah.

In the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema adds that even on Yom Tov, the Kohanim perform Birkas Kohanim only during Tefilas Musaf when they are about to leave the synagogue and experience the joy of Simchas Yom Tov. This is the source for the practice of most communities outside of Israel.

The Vilna Ga'on is said to have attempted to re-institute Birkas Kohanim on a daily basis in his community, but he received a sign from heaven not to do so. When his students arrived in Eretz Yisrael, they revived the practice of the daily Birkas Kohanim among the Ashkenazic communities. Nowadays, many Ashkenazic communities in Eretz Yisrael perform Birkas Kohanim every day, although some communities (such as Haifa and most communities in the Galilee) perform Birkas Kohanim only on Shabbos and Yom Tov. In Chutz la'Aretz, only Sefardic communities perform Birkas Kohanim on a daily basis.

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