Q. Why do Cohanim turn their back to the Aron Hakodesh when reciting their blessing to the people? Is that not an act of disrespect?
A. Talmud (Sota 38a) teaches that Birchas Cohanim should be said “ponim keneged ponim” or face to face, as when someone speaks to his friend; this is alluded by the pasuk “emor lahem,” speak to them.
Maharsho (ibid.) explains that first the Cohanim turn their face towards the Aron Hakodesh, as if to ask permission from Hashem to face the people and give them the brocho, and then they turn around to face them, with Hashem’s approval.
The Talmud (ibid. 40a) quotes Rabi Yitzchok saying how important the tzibur is regarded, since the Cohanim in order to face them, are allowed to turn their back to the Shechina.
Rambam (Tesh. 163) rules that there is no prohibition for the Cohanim to face the people, however if they are able to turn to one of the sides, it is better.
It is mentioned also in the name of Rabi Yitzchok Chorif and others, that since Rabenu Bachya explains that the Shechina rests on the hands of the Cohanim, (based on Medresh Shir Hashirim 2 – that the hands represent the two Kerubim inside the Kodesh Hakodoshim), so the shechina is actually with them and they are not turning their back to it.
There may be another reason for the Cohanim to turn around and face the people. Namely to bless them with the brochos that contain not only their spiritual needs, but also their material and corporal essential necessities.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as advised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a