I can still remember the tingly feeling of holiness that went through me when the rabbi blessed me at my bat mitzvah as a pipe organ played minor chords, and a choir in robes sang solemnly. (In retrospect, I wonder if all huge Reform congregations in 1990 borrowed a lot from Christian worship. I’m pretty sure mine did.)
The pipe organ was a new twist, but the blessing was ancient. Rabbis all over the world have been blessing their communities with three simple lines from this week’s Torah portion, Naso, for thousands of years. That suburban Reform rabbi was continuing the tradition of the priests of Biblical Israel, reciting the words God gave for blessing the people of Israel:
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine God’s face on you and give you grace.
May God give favor to you and grant you peace.
But rabbis aren’t the only ones to use these ancient sacred words regularly–so do parents. Maybe it’s because, no matter how secular we are, we parents have something in common with rabbis. We are responsible for taking care of our little ones. We are the ones who pass down our traditions and beliefs. At our best, we are a conduit for blessings: all the good things we’ve been given in our lives, we try to share with our children.
And so every week on Friday night, parents across the world–including me–bless their children with these words.
I highly encourage giving this a try, especially if you’re looking for ways to include Jewish rituals in your family life. Everyone’s got their own way of doing it. I follow the tradition of reciting the blessing after lighting Shabbat candles. I put both my hands on Sylvie’s head, lean in, whisper the blessing on her forehead, and kiss her. As if it weren’t already the sweetest moment of my week, recently she’s taken to saying “I bless Papa too?” and whispering gibberish against his forehead.
You can use the traditional Hebrew words if you want, like the family in this teaching video. But you can make up your own blessing too. This extended musical theater version from Fiddler on the Roof is a little extreme, but fun to look at for inspiration.
Last week I met with two friends who are both moms sending their youngest off to college. I suddenly realized, yet again, that I won’t be with this toddler version of Sylvie for long. Our young kids change so fast, and it’s easy in the rush and challenge of early parenthood to forget that one day this little tiny kid will no longer exist.
That’s what I love about the ritual of blessing Sylvie. It gives me a moment to focus on my love for her, exactly as we both are in this moment–which will be gone before I know it. It gives me a chance, amidst all the chaos, to appreciate the fleeting blessings of early parenthood.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.