In the three pesukim of Bircas Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, the Kohanim serve as the medium through which Hashem’s blessing reaches us. Hashem is the One Who blesses us via the conduit of the Kohen. Prior to offering the blessing, the Kohanim recite a berachah, “Who commands us to bless His People, Yisrael – b’ahavah, with love.” Thus, if the blessings are to achieve efficacy, the tenor of the relationship between kohen and congregation – and vice versa – must be one of love, no animus towards any member of the congregation for any reason. This applies to the flipside. If the congregant bears a grudge against the Kohen, he cannot love him. If one hopes to be strengthened and empowered as a result of this blessing, love must reign.
How important is Bircas Kohanim? The Netziv, zl (Naso), writes: “All of the blessings in the world are included within the words of Bircas Kohanim. There is nothing to be added to them.” Shaarei Orah (Shaar 10) writes: “When the Kohanim bless, they open up via their blessings, the world of Rachamim, Heavenly Mercy, a world where Strict Judgment does not exist. Thus, even if the Jewish People transgress, Bircas Kohanim prevents any negative influence from reaching them.” Horav Eliezer HaLevi Turk, Shlita, relates how some gedolim, Torah leaders, went out of their way to participate and receive the Priestly blessings.
Horav Yisrael Gustman, zl, insisted that there should be at least two Kohanim at his minyan (In Yerushalayim, Bircas Kohen is recited daily.) On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he made a point to have ten Kohanim at each minyan. Horav Moshe Aharon Stern, zl, and Horav Moshe Yosef Milotzki, zl, were known to trek from shul to shul to participate in Bircas Kohanim. When Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, zl, came to America together with the Gerrer Rebbe, Shlita, on their historic trip, Rav Shteinman insisted on davening in a Sephardic shul, since the minyan there recites Bircas Kohanim every day. Indeed, as Rav Shteinman explained, Bircas Kohanim is the only avodah, service, rendered in the Bais Hamikdash that is still extant after its destruction.
Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, was walking home from shul in the accompaniment of a number of students. He commented, “You know that there is someone in that shul who is proficient in giving berachos. His blessings achieve extraordinary efficacy under the most negative circumstances.” They followed him into the shul during Chazoras Ha’Shatz, the repetition of Shemoneh Esrai. He looked at them and said, “Two minutes.” They joined the congregation for Bircas Kohanim. The students looked at their revered Rebbe as if to say, “So what? It is only Bircas Kohanim.” He replied, “Hashem says, ‘And I will place My Name on Bnei Yisrael, and I will bless them.’ Is anyone’s blessing more effective than that of Hashem? Let me tell you a story. A relative of mine was experiencing a difficult labor. The doctor wanted to perform a cesarean section surgery to deliver the infant. They called Horav Nissen Karelitz, zl, for advice and a berachah. The Rebbetzin took the call and replied that the Rav was unavailable. She advised them, however, to refuse surgery at the moment, to hold out until the morning when the situation would be reevaluated. Night passed, and, by morning, the situation had resolved itself, and mother and child were out of the woods.
Weeks later, Rav Shimshon had occasion to visit Rav Nissen and his wife. He said to her, “Rebbetzin, you are a miracle worker. To take upon your shoulders to offer advice that is counter to medical opinion – great shoulders.” The Rebbetzin replied, “You think that it was I who blessed the child? The truth is that I am a firm believer in the power of Bircas Kohanim. The Kohanim bless the people. At times, however, for whatever reason, their blessing does not (at that time) achieve efficacy. As a result, a number of “loose” blessings are drifting all over. I collect and save them. When someone is in need of blessing, I release one of the blessings. They are not my blessings. These blessings come from Hashem. I just happened to have saved them for the next opportunity.”