The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord let his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.
These are the words of the Priestly Blessing (in Hebrew, birkat kohanim), also known as Aaronic or Cohenic Blessing. One of the oldest and best-known Judaic rituals, the blessing or benediction was part of the temple services, when every morning and evening at the Tamid offering the priest would ascend a special platform and pronounce the words with hands lifted. After the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the sacrificial services, the Blessing became part of the public synagogue service, in which it is pronounced by adult males of priestly descent. The positioning of the hands in the Priestly Blessing is intended to form two "Vs", signifying shin, the initial in Hebrew for the word meaning the light or presence of God.
From Numbers 6: 24-26, the words of the Blessing are also a familiar part of Christian ritual. In 1661 the Blessing was officially adopted by the Church of England for the unction service; it is widely used today in both Protestant services and the Catholic liturgy.
The prosperity and relative tolerance of 18th century Holland attracted a large Jewish community. Wealthy merchants and traders fled the Iberian peninsula for Amsterdam, where the great Portuguese Synagogue opened in 1675. By 1795 the Jewish community is estimated to have exceeded 20,000. Though restricted from full participation in Dutch life, Jews were members of guilds including the brokers' and printers', and Jews were physicians. In Portugal and Spain the severity of the Inquisition began to wane towards the end of the 18th century, and Jewish families began to return. The first synagogue in Lisbon was established in 1813. Very likely a wealthy Dutch or Portuguese Jewish family, perhaps active in the sugar and tobacco trade with Brazil or the cotton and diamond trade with India, commissioned this service.
Related individual pieces are found in the Stieglitz Collection (see B. Chaya, The Stieglitz Collection of Masterpieces of Jewish Art, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1987, p. 354) and the collection of the Jewish Museum of London (see R.D. Barnett, ed., Catalogue, London, 1974, p. 138.)