Scarred Hands and Feet

Jewish tradition says that a person should not look at the hands of a priest when he lifts them up to make the priestly blessing.

The Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) taking place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. (Image © First Fruits of Zion)

According to the Talmud, the glory of God rested upon the priests’ hands when they lifted them to bless the people. To avoid being blinded by the glory of God, the laypeople averted their eyes during the blessing.

When Yeshua ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his disciples. “While he was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). The words “he lifted up his hands and blessed” implies that the Master pronounced the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) over His disciples.

The Talmud says that one who stared at the priests’ hands risked losing his eyesight:

The glory of three things can dim a person’s eyes: The rainbow, the Prince, and the priests. The rainbow, because it is written [in Ezekiel 1:28], ‘As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day … was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.’ The Prince, for it is written [in Numbers 27:20], ‘And you shall put your glory upon him.’ The priests because while the Temple still stood, when they stood upon their platform pronouncing the priestly blessing and blessed Israel with the unspeakable name of God.” (b.Chagigah 16a)

The descendants of Aaron the priest still carry out the ceremony of lifting hands and blessing the congregation in synagogue prayer services. Worshippers in the synagogue still practice the custom of averting one’s eyes from the priests’ hands. Most often, the priests who pronounce the blessing drape their lifted hands in tallit to protect the congregation from looking on their hands, but it is also customary for the congregants to look down at the floor, or, at the very most, to look upon the priest’s feet as he says the words of the blessing.

In Temple times the priests offered their blessing from a higher elevation than the worshippers. As the priests lifted their hands, the worshippers looked down at the priests’ bare feet.

Upon seeing the Master lift His nail-scarred hands to make the sign of the priestly blessing over them, the disciples averted their eyes and looked down at His feet. His feet bore the same scars, and (to the disciples’ amazement) His feet no longer rested on the earth. As He blessed them He ascended rapidly into the sky.

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