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When the Kohanim washed their hands and feet in the Beis HaMikdosh they did not have anyone to help.

Why then do the Kohanim need others to wash their hands when they go up to bless the people?

Why do the others have to be Leviim if available?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's based on the Zohar Nasso 146b and is noted as an old minhag in both Ashkenaz and Sefarad by the Beit Yosef (OC 128). In the Shulchan Aruch he codifies this practice in OC 128:6.

It seems the reasoning in the Zohar is that the Kohanim need to somehow up their kedusha level by washing as a preparation for the blessing, and by having a Levi, who has his own type of kedusha (based on a pasuk the Zohar quotes וקדשת את הלוים; I can't find this pasuk in Tanakh but the Zohar quotes it in a number of other places as well) do the washing, it is better able to add to the kedusha of the Kohen. (If you didn't really understand that don't worry: I didn't really either.)

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Perhaps the Zohar means to reference "v'hivdalta es halviyyim" (Bamidbar 8:14). See also this article. –  Fred May 11 '12 at 0:55
    
@Fred: it might also be a shortening/paraphrase of 8:17-18, where Hashem says that He sanctified the bechorim and then "took the Levi'im" instead of them - meaning that they succeeded to that kedushah. –  Alex May 11 '12 at 16:20
    
@Alex, or the pesukim you reference allow us (l'fi haZohar) to interpret v'hivdalta (or v'tiharta [8:15]) as v'kidashta. The Zohar does use lashon tzivui here. –  Fred May 11 '12 at 16:43
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