“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:23-26)
On Wednesday, the third day of the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), tens of thousands gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to receive the priestly blessing, known as Birkat Hakohanim, from hundreds of representatives of the Jewish priestly class, or kohanim.
The mass blessing by the kohanim, who are the descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest, takes place twice a year, on Sukkot and Passover. The priestly benediction is found in Chapter 6 of the book of Numbers, where God instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons how to bless the Israelites.
At the ceremony were Israel’s chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau, and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall. An Indian Bishop was also in attendance, seen below.
At morning prayers, men donned their prayer shawls (tallit) and held the four species which Jews are commanded to take up on Sukkot: a citron (etrog), a palm branch (lulav), boughs with leaves from a myrtle tree (hadasim), and branches with leaves from a willow tree (aravot).
A Torah scroll in a beautiful decorative case for the Torah reading of the morning service.
A man takes the four species, makes the required blessing and shakes them in the six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down).
A panoramic view of the Western Wall plaza. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation estimates that 50,000 people attended Wednesday’s Birkat Hakohanim ceremony.
A man in prayer holds an exceptionally large etrog!
The Torah scroll opened for reading.
The bridge to the right of the Western Wall plaza leads up to the Temple Mount, where Jews would ascend in Biblical times during the three festivals to offer prayers and sacrifices at the Holy Temple. Today, Jews still make pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the festivals, even though the Temple no longer stands.
During the prayer, kohanim must cover their heads with their prayer shawls and hold up their hands towards the congregation of Israelites to make the blessing upon them.