Sunday, May 23, 2010

Shmuel - The Chabad Kohen of Mitzpe Ramon

This week's Torah reading, Naso, contains the commandment for the Kohanim to bless the Children of Israel with the beautiful Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24–26):

May Hashem (G-d) bless you and guard you;
May Hashem make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you;
May Hashem lift up his face onto you and give you peace .
If you go to shul to pray with a minyan in Israel, the thing that comes as the biggest surprise is that the Kohanim duchan, recite the Priestly Blessing, every day, twice a day. Having grown up outside of Israel, where the Kohanim only recite the Priestly Blessing during the Sholosh Regalim and High Holidays - especially festive occasions - , it still brings me up short and excites me to hear it recited every day.

Some shul communities are fortunate to have many Kohanim. In Englewood, NJ, the shul we went to had  dozens, seemingly half the shul was Kohanim, a very strange and rare occurrence. Some small shuls can't even count a single Kohen, unfortunate since the Priestly Blessing can only be recited by one of the descendants of Aaron, the first Kohen. More likely, a small shul has a single Kohen.

Shmuel haKohen of Mitzpe Ramon Chabad

Our Chabad shul in Mitzpe Ramon has Shmuel haKohen. At least this is the name I know him by, although I'm sure he has a proper last name. I believe he is originally from North Africa, whether Morocco or Algeria, I don't know. Shmuel haKohen has a kindly but serious look about him and likes to tease the children in shul. He ritually washes his hands before the first Priestly Blessing on Shabbat, and after that is careful not to touch anyone directly with his hands, shielding them with his Tallit when he shakes hands and says "Shabbat Shalom". Others, in turn, shield there hands with their own Tallis when shaking his hand, resulting in a double layer of protection.

I don't know if it is this or the seriousness with which he recites the Blessing or perhaps just the fact that we are in Israel, but when you are in his presence and he duchans, you really feel as if G-d has blessed you through him. Yasher Koach, Shmuel haKohen!

My view of Shmuel haKohen as he duchans.

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