Every Friday night, the Jewish people enter the sacred space of Shabbat. To welcome and separate this time from the rest of the week, we offer several blessings beginning with the blessings on the candles. Once the candles are lit and Shabbat begins, there are several, additional customary songs and blessings including Shalom Aleichem, Kiddush (the blessing over the wine), HaMotzi(the blessing over the challah), Ashet Chayil (Woman of Valor), and the Blessing of the Children.
Birkat HaBanim or the Blessing of the Children is a tradition that stems from the Torah. In Parsha Vayigash, we are first introduced to the notion of this special blessing. Jacob is on his deathbed and calls each of his sons in to bless them. Each son is offered a prayer specifically crafted for his personal character. When it is time for Joseph to receive his blessing, Jacob bestows a blessing on the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe.
This was, indeed, a reward for Joseph. What parent would not be overjoyed knowing that his or her children were to be an example for all Jewish people? Why were Ephraim and Menashe chosen for this esteemed honor? Ephraim and Menashe managed to maintain their Jewish values despite being raised in Mitzrayim (Egypt), separated from the Jewish people. In an environment that could easily lure one to assimilate, Ephraim and Menashe continued to focus on a Jewish life.
Furthermore, it is said that Ephraim and Menashe were not prone to sibling rivalry. They were the first brothers in the Torah who modeled a relationship void of competition. They did not engage in power struggles typical of many of the brotherly relationships throughout the Torah. Rather, these brothers were filled with compassion and care for each other.
While our sons are blessed in the merit of Ephraim and Menashe, our daughters are blessed from the honor of our four matriarchs – Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
As we put our hands upon our children’s heads each Friday night, we embrace a moment of intense communication. Our blessing is an expression of love, an extension of our wishes for our children, and an acknowledgement of their innate goodness. Many parents add to the blessing by adding a specific wish for each child. For the one who is struggling with a teacher, we wish her a good relationship with her teacher. For the one who struggles with change, we wish him ease in a new situation. For the one who didn’t make the soccer team, we wish him the strength to move through disappointment.
The traditional blessing of the children translates as:
May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah (girls).
May G-d make you like Ephraim and Menashe (boys).
May G-d bless you and watch over you.
May G-d shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May G-d be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace
The latter portion of the Blessing over the Children is known as the Priestly Blessing. This was the same blessing Aharon and his sons extended to the Jewish people. The Priestly blessing continues to be recited by Kohanim (descendants of Aharon) in synagogues today.
The Blessing of the Children is an easy way to enhance the bond between a parent and a child. The long lasting, positive impact of this simple utterance is immeasurable. It only takes thirty seconds to let our children know how important they are to us and how much we wish for them in this world.
If you do not already recite this blessing over your children each week, I’d like to suggest giving it a try. You may even consider blessing them each morning as they head off to school. What a great way to send them on to their day!