Priests blessing soldiers going to war
Before you join battle, the Kohen shall come forward and address the troops.
For the first time in 2,000 years: Priests blessing soldiers going to war
When Israel was attacked two weeks ago, Saul Teplitsky leaped into action, trying to help Israel from his home in Brooklyn. Like many others, he donated money to emergency efforts at resupplying Israel. But like so many others, he felt that whatever he did was simply not enough. On Sunday, eight days after the horrific attack, Saul put out a Whatsapp message to his community calling on people to donate necessary items and received an overwhelming response. A young man in the community, the son of a friend, was traveling to Israel to serve in the IDF and Saul, a Kohen, decided that he wanted to give the young man a blessing before he went off to war.
As the male descendants of Biblical Aaron, Kohanim are mandated with blessing the nation of Israel. But this is usually limited to blessing the congregation in synagogue. Saul felt that at this time of dire need, his priestly blessing would serve to protect the soldier.
Saul hurried to the airport and after a bit of searching, found the young man among a large pile of duffel bags full of donated equipment for his IDF unit, preparing to leave for Israel. Saul made his unusual request.
“I am a Kohen,” Saul said. “Can I give you a bracha (blessing)? Saul asked.
Saul placed his hands on the young man’s head and gave him a heartfelt blessing, The young man’s eyes filled with tears. Several other young men who were about to leave to fight in the war against Hamas gathered around, asking to be blessed.
Word quickly got out and Saul organized a Whatsapp group to connect soldiers with Kohanim. Since coordinating Kohanim and soldiers was impossible, each soldier was assigned an individual Kohen who sent a video of him blessing the soldier by name.
The list grew at an unbelievable rate. Within a few days, over 4,000 names of soldiers were signed up and over 300 Kohanim were assigned to bless them individually.
“In many cases, the soldiers are already on the front line and their parents or loved ones are signing them up,” Saul said. “While in uniform, they are being blessed by a Kohen who singles them out by name.”
The original Whatsapp group has grown too large and Saul is attempting to provide a new platform for this amazing effort. “We are doing our part. We are trying not to leave any soldier without a blessing,” he said. “They are heroes of Israel and deserve everything we can provide; spiritual and material.”
Sauls’ initial instinct came from his function as a Kohen within his community but its roots go much deeper. When Israel first became a nation upon exiting Egypt, God assured them that they would be protected in war after specially appointed Kohanim blessed them.
When you take the field against your enemies, and see horses and chariots—forces larger than yours—have no fear of them, for Hashem your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, is with you.Before you join battle, the Kohen shall come forward and address the troops.He shall say to them, “Hear, O Yisrael! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them.For it is Hashem your God who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory.” Deuteronomy 1-4
The Kohen appointed with this function was called the Kohen Mashuach Milchamah, the “Kohen Anointed for War”. Jewish law specifies that this function cannot be performed by a scholar or rabbi. It must be performed by a Kohen who was anointed with the special oil that is normally reserved for kings and High Priests. Indeed, many laws pertaining to the High priest also pertain to the Kohen Mashuach Milchamah. This represents the special nature of a milchemet mitzvah, a Biblically mandated war for the Jews’ existence in the land of Israel which is a holy endeavor. It is for this reason that the Kohen Mashuach Milchamah addresses the troops in Hebrew, lashon hakodesh, the holy language.
Rabbi Nachman Kahane, a Kohen, has three children and 17 grandchildren and great grandchildren serving in the IDF in this war. “I have a lot to pray for,” Rabbi Kahane said. “It’s a wonderful idea for Kohanim to bless soldiers.” Rabbi Kahane emphasized that as a “nation of priests”, Jews can, and should, pray for and bless each other.The rabbi added a commentary about the ongoing war. “This is a powerful time. We are going to see wonders like we have never seen before, miracles that were written about in the Bible,” Rabbi Kahane predicted.
The Aaronic blessing is taken from Numbers 6:23-27: