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Bless Me, Scottie

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Cohanim, Birchas, Mr. Spock and

Heiko Evermann from Hamburg, Germany wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I have a question concerning a greeting found in the Star Trek series, which, as someone told me, has a Jewish origin, and I would like to know more about it. Mr. Spock from the planet Vulcan greets people with "live long and prosper" while holding his hand towards them with a gap between his thumb and first finger, and a gap between his middle and third finger, forming something like the letter "W". I was told that Leonard Nemoy, the actor who plays Mr. Spock, has Jewish parents. I have also seen this hand symbol on plaques and souvenirs in Israel when I visited that country last year. It showed two hands forming this sign and around it was a Hebrew blessing, as I was told. I would like to know more about this and thought that you might be able to help me. Thank you in advance for your efforts.

Rachel wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I have always heard that there is special relevance as to Jewish tribe concerning the wide separation of the third and fourth finger, and that doing this with both hands has a special mystical meaning. What does it mean if you can do this? What does it mean to be from a certain tribe with the ability to do this, and is this folklore? Tell me as many tidbits as you know, I am very interested.


Dear Heiko Evermann, Rachel and all you Trekkies out there,

Yes, Leonard Nemoy is Jewish, and his "Vulcanic" hand-gestures originate from the Torah.

The Torah commands the kohanim, the descendants of Aharon, to bless the Jewish people. They are to stand in front of the congregation, raise their hands to shoulder level and pronounce the "priestly blessings" found in the Book of Numbers (6:22): "May G-d bless you and keep you...."

This commandment has been performed by kohanim in synagogues until this very day. The prevalent custom today is that the hands are held together palms-down, and the fingers are split such that there are 5 spaces: One space between the thumbs, a space between the thumb and first finger of each hand, and a space between the second and third finger of each hand. The five spaces are an allusion to the verse in Song of Songs 2:8 which states that Hashem "peeks through the cracks in the wall." In other words, Hashem protects and watches the Jewish people even when He is hidden.

As mentioned, a kohen is someone descended from Aharon (Moses's brother) and therefore from the tribe of Levi. Even if a Kohen can't split his fingers in the proper manner, he can still give the priestly blessing. The ability to split your fingers in the proper manner is absolutely no indication that you are from the priestly tribe.

By the way, "Captain Kirk" (William Shatner) is also Jewish. (My wife went to the same camp as his daughter.) The phrase "Set your phasers to stun," however, is found nowhere in the Talmud.

Sources:

  • Va'ani Avarachaim by Rabbi Yossee Pack, Ch. 32
  • Mishnah Berurah 128:45


 
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