Thursday, October 20, 2005

Birkat Cohanim

Walking up through the hill gardens above the Sultan's Pool (Breichat HaSultan), my wife and I joined a steady flow of people heading in the direction of the Kottel (Western or Wailing Wall) to take part in the ancient ritual of Birkat Cohanim (the Priestly Blessing).

Heading into the Old City, we cut down past the Cardo and the Hurva Synagogue, heading for the spot to which Jews have directed their prayers over the millennia. Wanting to get a decent view and to avoid the crush, we headed for a vantage point overlooking the Wall, which, even though we arrived 45 minutes before the appropriate time, was already crowded.

The sound of a shofar echoed off the ancient buildings and groups of tourists snaked across the open space in front of the Kottel, now quickly filling up. Whilst usually there are many different minyanim (prayer quorums) running at any given time, reflecting the different ethnic backgrounds of the worshippers, today, in an unusual display of concordance, tnes of thousands of worshippers joined together in just one service, led by an elderly man with an even older sound system which alternately boomed, crackled and faded.

5 minutes before the "main event", almost as if some higher being was watching over us, the thin drizzle which had seemed intent on ruining everyone's day out, made way for the sun which glinted off the Golden Dome of the Rock.

Sukkot is one of the 3 Pilgrim Festivals on which Jews made the journey to the Temple in Jerusalem on foot with the various offerings that were required of them. The Cohanim, descendants of Aaron who performed the Priestly duties in the Temple, bless worshippers every day as part of the morning prayers. It has become traditional however to gather at the Kottel on Sukkot and Pesach to bless the people en masse.

The Cohanim cover their heads with their Talit (prayer shawl) and facing the gathered crowds chant the blessing:

"May the Lord bless you and guard you; May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; May the Lord lift up his countenance to you and grant you peace".
Looking around me I see black hats and furry shtreimels, baseball caps, knitted and velvet kippots and the odd bare head. I see sheitels and snoods and kangols and falls, long and short sleeves skirts brushing the ground and up above the knee. I hear Hebrew, Yiddish, English and French. My fellow worshippers are Jews from all over the world and represent the entire religious spectrum. There is something very special about taking part in an ancient ritual with such a huge and diverse crowd. I always get an emotional kick out of having chosen to be here at the focal point of our religion - I really meant it when I sang "LeShana HaBa BiYerushalayim" over all those years.

Chag Sameach,



Jack's Shack said...

That sounds like a very powerful experience.

seawitch said...

Thank you for sharing this. It brought home, "next year in Jerusalem". Though I'm not Jewish yet, my grandfather and father were.