Thursday, July 14, 2005


Birkot Hatora. The Blessings over Torah Study.

In most contemporary prayerbooks, they appear followed by two Torah texts — one from the Written Torah, and one from the Oral Torah. The Tora Shebikhetav text is Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing (Bemidbar 6:24-26): May God bless you and guard you. May God shine his face towards you and be gracious towards you. May God raise his face towards you and place upon you peace. The Tora Shebe‘al Peh text is the first mishna in Masekhet Pei’a, with an addition from the gemara of Masekhet Shabat 127a.

I was told once that some people associate the words of Birkat Kohanim mystically with the human hand, since the Priestly Blessing has a total of 15 words and the human hand has a total of 15 'pieces' — three joints on each of four fingers, two on the thumb, and one palm.
  1. יברכך
  2. ה׳
  3. וישמרך

  4. יאר
  5. ה׳
  6. פניו
  7. אליך
  8. ויחנך

  9. ישא
  10. ה׳
  11. פניו
  12. אליך
  13. וישם
  14. לך
  15. שלום

Interestingly enough, the Talmudic passage paired with Birkat Kohanim to be learned after reciting the Blessings over Torah Study mentions 15 commandments!
    These things have no set limit:
  1. Leaving the Corners of Fields for the Poor
  2. First Fruits Offering
  3. Pilgrimage
  4. Acts of Kindness
  5. Learning Torah
    These things one does and benefits from in This World, but the principal reward remains intact for the Next World:
  6. Honoring Parents
  7. Acts of Kindness
  8. Coming Early to Study Morning and Evening
  9. Hosting Guests
  10. Visiting the Sick
  11. Providing for a Bride
  12. Escorting the Dead
  13. Understanding Prayer
  14. Bringing Peace Between People
  15. Learning Torah (which is equivalent to all the rest)


Blogger festinog said...

For fear of sounding ignorant: Whats the (a?) Torah?

7/15/2005 9:38 AM  
Blogger festinog said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/15/2005 9:38 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Welcome to my blog, Festinog!

"Torah" is usually translated into English as "the Law", but literally it means more like "Teaching" or "Guide".

In the widest use of the term, it can be synonymous with Jewish Tradition as a whole.

The narrowest sense of the term is the first five books of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) — Bereishit, Shemot, Vayiqra’, Bemidbar, Devarim (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), a.k.a. "Five Books of Moses", "Pentateuch", etc. This is also called Torah Shebikhetav, "the Written Torah".

In addition to the Written Torah, there's another body of Jewish religious literature called Torah Shebe‘al Peh, "the Oral Torah", which was originally an oral tradition accompanying and explaining the laws of the Written Torah. Eventually, this too was written down (over a long process, around 200-550 CE) and became a work called the Talmud.
A "book" of the Talmud is called a masekhet (commonly translated as "tractate", whatever that means ;-) ), and the two books i referenced in the post are Pei’a and Shabat. Hence the terms Masekhet Pei’a and Masekhet Shabat.

7/15/2005 10:32 AM  
Blogger Shifra said...

It's interesting that you mention it (and I'd never heard about the pattern before) but I always felt that these particular tefilot had a good rythm if you know what I mean. Maybe it is because of this balance... Verrrry Iiiinteresting.

7/15/2005 11:35 AM  
Blogger Shifra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/15/2005 11:35 AM  
Blogger festinog said...

And who said the internet wasn't educational? Actually, I think I did. But I take it back.

7/15/2005 2:23 PM  
Blogger Rachack said...

lol. that's a good attitude. You can learn a lot from the 'net

7/17/2005 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Shir-Yaakov said...

The Priestly Blessing also has other symmetries.

xxx (3)
xxxxx (5)
xxxxxxx (7)

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (15)
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (20)
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (25)

7/18/2005 1:14 AM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Here is the part where you explain how each word in the priestly blessing coresponds to each mitzva.

7/18/2005 4:55 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Good idea! I'll think about it... unless you've already got some good ideas? ;-)

7/18/2005 6:18 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

I thought I would leave it to you but mitvos one through five seem to have an some correspondence to the five words of the second posuk.
Ya'er -- Pe'ah (not sure about this one)
Hashem -- Bikurim (Bikurim is about thanking Hashem? I know pretty weak, but the next three work better.)
Panav -- Pilgramage (i.e., meeting God's "face")
Eilecha -- Chesed (chesed is directed TO others)
Vechuneka - Torah (Vichineka has the same root as chinuch).

7/18/2005 6:36 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

krun Bekurim IS kodesh LaHashem

7/19/2005 12:12 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Amshi, yes, but don't all mitzvas have some sort of yachas to Hashem? If it's too contrived, then it's meaningless.

7/19/2005 3:47 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

no.bekurim like pidyon haben ,not like all other mitzvos

7/19/2005 5:03 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

The last two also fit:

14. Briŋiŋ peace between people-- this peace may be great, because it is beneficial לך, to you, but...

15. The true peace is the study of Torah, which can truly be called שלום.

(It's a try...)

I see that you have a huge list of Jewish blogs in your "Liŋks" section. It would be nice if you could add a liŋk to my blog, too. :-)

[This may be a bit of self-promotion, but who ever said that reaching out to people online was yuhoro? Heck, it may even lead to briŋiŋ peace between people, which corresponds to לך....)

7/20/2005 10:51 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Thanks for the good ideas!

I actually planned on addiŋ you, don't know why i didn't before. Here ya go, Mar...

Btw, my computer doesn't seem to be able to handle italicized engs. Can yours?

(you wouldn't happen to have heard of anyone besides me who pronounces "onion" oŋion, would you?)

7/21/2005 11:19 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

steg me rebba is back in town ,maybe ya vant ta come for shala shodas,ya ?

7/21/2005 11:34 AM  
Anonymous LkwdGuy said...

How about this.

During the chazaras hashatz we introduce the bircas kohanim with three discriptions.

1.brachah hamishulesses batorah = 3 words

2.hakesuvah al yeday etc. = 5 words

3. haamurah mpi aharon etc. = 7 words

The first pasuk of BK has 3 words in it.

The second pasuk has 5 words in it.

The third pasuk has 7 words in it.

7/21/2005 12:09 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Sounds like a plan!

That's bloody brilliant!!!! (as they say in the UK... hopefully i'm not underestimating the rudeness level of 'bloody' :-P )

7/21/2005 12:17 PM  
Anonymous LkwdGuy said...

It's from R' Hutner. It's printed in Pachad Yitzchok.

7/21/2005 12:19 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Here's some more self-referencial Birkat Kohanim word-counting!!!

The traditional Ashkenazic 'introduction' to Birkat Kohanim used when it's done Outside The Land on holidays (and which i think shouldn't have been chucked by the people who made ‘aliyá; after all, the text comes from the old Talmud Yerushalmi era nusahh of The Land itself...)

Vetei‘areiv lefanekha ‘atirateinu ke‘ola ukheqorban; ana, rahhum, berahhameikha harabim hasheiv shekhinatekha letziyon ‘eirekha, veseider ha‘avoda liyrushalayim. [Vetehhezena ‘eineinu beshuvekha letziyon berahhamim,] vesham na‘avadkha beyir’a, kiymey ‘olam ukheshanim qadmoniyot. Barukh ata H', she’otekha levadekha beyir’a na‘avod.

Minus the phrase in brackets which is part of the usual text of the Retzeih blessing, we have here 30 words. 15 x 2.

We're not taking this too far, are we? I'm beginning to worry that it's sounding like Bible Codes. :-O

7/21/2005 12:28 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

I can see the italic engs on my own computer, but they appear as boxes on a computer in the JTS library....

I'm assuming everyone knows about the correspondence between the first 22 letters of birkath kohanim and the 22-letter mystical name that incorporates the elements אנקת"ם פסת"ם דיונסי"ם plus one more element (I think the other element also begins with a daleth, but I'm too lazy to get up and look at a maHazor. In any event, the relevant prayer first appears, I think, in a late 17th-century mahazor called something like שערי ציון, by a fellow name Noson Nuta Something. (Is it Hanover? Or was that the guy who wrote יון מצולה, the chronicle of the Chmielnicki massacres? It's ironic how lazy I am, considering the fact that I'm in the JTS library....)

And there are sixty words total in birkath hakkohanim. Perhaps we could say that these correspond to the sixty tractates of Mishna/Talmud, of which this selected mishna and barraitha are supposed to be representative. (Why the double R in barraitha? Well, you see, in Massoretic Hebrew it is almost impossible to geminate a resh, but in Babylonian Aramaic, it is apparently possible. And according to M. Sokoloff's dictionary, that is exactly the case in this word....)

7/21/2005 12:36 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

A. That's ve-se`erav/we-the`erav/וְתֶעֱרַב עָלֶיךָ, NOT וְתֵעָרֵב לְפָנֶיךָ. See Seth Mandel's post on Avodah,

B. I have never noticed anyone saying oŋion. After reading your post, I listened to myself, and found that I say onyin (with a shewa na`, which symbol I can't seem to get from this library terminal). However, I may have heard others pronounce it your way, and never noticed it.

7/21/2005 12:45 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

For fans of geminated Reish:

Yehhezqeil 16:4
...lõˀ ķŏrraţ šŏrrēķ...

(in my own idiosyncratic transliteration)

Re: vǝsé‘ŏrébh
I've read about that before... unfortunately, it just sounds so much better to me the 'wrong' way :-P

7/21/2005 4:13 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

PS to Amshinover:

1. Will there be sushi? ;-)
2. I got the H'TŠS"H "4th Corrected & Expanded" Edition of Sidur Eizor Eiliyahu!

7/21/2005 4:24 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Re: vǝsé‘ŏrébh
I've read about that before... unfortunately, it just sounds so much better to me the 'wrong' way :-P

I, too, often fall back into a reflex pronunciation "vǝsé‘ŏrév", but when I am shǝli'Hŏ dhe-Sibbûrŏ, I am maqpidh to pronounce it qorrectly.

7/21/2005 6:30 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

By the way, in your very first post, you (quoting Siddur Eizor Eliyyohu) claim that the form אוֹהֲבָךְ is epicene. Well, I'm sorry to say, it isn't.

אוֹהֲבְךָ (or אוֹהֲבֶךָ)
feminine: אוֹהֲבֵךְ

feminine: אוֹהֲבִיךְ (as in Aramaic; check the Albeck-Yalon Mishnayoth)

The only words with -ŏkh endings that are epicene are:
1. אוֹתָךֱ
2. לָךְ
3. בָּךְ
(I think that there are two others, as well.)

But I'm glad to find another diqduq-freak out there in cyberspace....

7/21/2005 11:26 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I'm pretty sure that somewhere down there i pointed out that it's actually only *pseudo*-epicene, or gives the impression of being such due to the 'declined prepositions' you mentioned. Maybe i didn't express it clearly enough.

7/22/2005 12:32 AM  

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