By Richard A. Klein
Covid-19 has brought incalculable challenges and disappointments. Many have been forced to adapt to the changing times, frequently losing important resources, opportunities or even loved ones.
Uncertain times spill over onto our children and grandchildren. This may be an occasion for some to introduce them to a prayer specially designed for children that dates back to Biblical times. It’s a blessing that binds parents to children in the act of placing hands on the heads of the children and reciting the words, usually at the time of the Shabbat evening meal.
Here is the prayer, known as the priestly blessing, from Numbers 6:24-26, which references the grandchildren of Jacob for boys and the Biblical matriarchs for girls:
For boys, the introductory line is:
May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
Yesimcha Elohim k’Ephraim v’chi-Menashe.
For girls, the introductory line is:
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
Yesimech Elohim k’Sarah Rivka Rachel v’Leah
For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:
May God bless you and protect you.
Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishmerecha
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem lecha shalom
The blessing is most often heard at Shabbat services, often at the conclusion. Or it may be bestowed on a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. But there is every reason to include it at home.
When I became a member of what was then the United Jewish Appeal Young Men’s Leadership Cabinet in the 1980’s, the prayer was made a priority. We were all advised that “You will bless your children every Shabbat. It’s important both for you and them.” I immediately began making it a regular part of our Shabbat observance, as essential as a kiddush or motzi.
The practice continues whenever I’m with my now adult children and their children. My son and his wife, both commercial pilots, call in for the blessing every Friday evening no matter where their travels take them. Even when Andrew served in the Israel Defense Forces during the time of Lebanon 2, he would call for his blessing.
It’s just a passage from Exodus that takes only a minute or two, but it’s one that tends to last a lifetime. The priestly blessing can become as anticipated in Jewish homes as affixing a mezuzah, lighting the candles, giving generously to tzedakah or welcoming Elijah on Pesach.
Richard A. Klein is a former filmmaker and a retired fundraiser for The Jewish Federations of North America.