Speak to Aharon and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Yisrael. Numbers 6:22 (The Israel Bible™)
More than 40,000 people gathered on Wednesday at Jerusalem’s Western Wall for the biannual priestly blessing on Wednesday. As per his custom since even before he was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Melech (king) Friedman was on hand to perform his kohanic (priestly) duties.
The priestly blessing is normally said as part of the regular morning prayer service on weekdays and twice during the Sabbath and festival morning prayers. On chol hamoed (the intermediary days) of Pesach and Sukkot, it has become a custom in Israel to perform a massive version of the ritual at the Kotel (Western Wall).
Approximately five percent of Jewish men have a family tradition that they are descended from the priestly class, so hundreds of kohanim (Jewish men descended from Aaron, the Biblical High Priest) were on hand to bless the masses in a manner that is powerfully reminiscent of the glory that was once part of the Temple service.
The custom is gaining in popularity and this year, the Western Wall Plaza was full to overflowing with crowds standing in the pathways overlooking the area.
Before saying the blessing, men from the tribe of Levi wash the hands of the kohanim. The ritual may only be performed by a kohen and only in the presence of a quorum of ten Jews. A kohen who is under the influence of alcohol or in mourning may not perform the blessing.
The blessing is performed by the priests holding their hands up with the fingers spread in the manner made famous by Leonard Nimoy (a kohen) when he played Spock on the television series Star Trek. The fingers of both hands are separated so as to make five spaces between them; spaces are between the ring finger and middle finger of each hand, between the index finger and thumb of each hand, and the two thumbs touch each other at the knuckle.
The priests then recite Numbers 6:23-27:
May the LORD bless you and guard you,
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you,
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace.