When I was growing up, my family had a lot of rituals we carried out on Friday evenings to welcome the Shabbat. They did evolve over the years, as all things do, but there are a few that remain constant and stand out particularly in my memory.
We always lit candles with my mother. I am one of three siblings, and we each had a set of candles of our own (in retrospect, maybe a bit of a fire hazard, but hey, it worked out). Before lighting the candles, us kids would add coins to a tzedakah box, usually coins given to us by our dad for this purpose. Then we’d take turns lighting candles. In unison, we’d wave the light of the Shabbat towards us three times, cover our eyes with our palms, and recite the blessing.
If I close my eyes now, I can hear the chorus of our little-kid voices along with my mom’s voice, carefully saying each word, the whoosh of the match lighting, the clink-clink-clink of shekels falling through the slot on the tzedakah box.
Once recited, we’d open our eyes and shout, “Shabbat shalom!” Everyone gave everyone else hugs and kisses as we welcomed the Shabbat into our home.
We were also blessed by our parents. The five of us — two adults, three squirmy kids — stood in a circle. Mild sibling elbowing commenced to see who would get two hands instead of one on their head (this was perceived as getting “extra blessing” for some reason). Once settled, my parents recited the traditional tripartite blessing, conjugated into the feminine for us three daughters. The blessing that, in its original form, is found in this week’s Torah portion, Nasso.
“Yesimech elohim k’Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v’Leah. Y’var’chech Adonai v’yishmerech. Ya’er Adonai panav elayich viychunech. Yisa Adonai panav elayich v’yasem lach shalom.”
May God treat you as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. May God bless you and keep you. May God’s countenance shine down upon you. May God turn towards you and place peace upon you.
The sound of my parents’ voices giving us this weekly blessing echoes in me, etched into my memory, indelible.
At the time, it seemed like just another thing we did. Truthfully, I was probably more interested in getting to the chicken soup and challah part of the evening (as an aside, my dad makes the most irresistible challah in the world). I liked getting blessed, but I didn’t really understand it the way I do now. I probably took it for granted, at least for the most part.
There’s an intimacy to the act of placing your hands on your child’s head and blessing them. I like to think that, even as a challah-driven kid, I sensed that intimacy. The closeness of two people sharing a breath. Blessings have the inherent quality of stopping time, if only for a moment. We halt our actions, take a deep breath, and express gratitude, sorrow, or awe. When we bestow a blessing on someone else, we transfer that energy of intention into them.
The words, when imbued with intention, have magic to them. When it’s done with full presence, a blessing can be like an electrical circuit, allowing a current of energy to move from one space (or person) to another.
It’s long been my opinion that, when you break this blessing down to its components, it’s pretty much the perfect parent-to-child offering.
First, may you have the wisdom of your ancestors and remind you of your heritage. Second, may you remain safe in this dangerous and scary world. Third, may you have the ability to see the light and wonder in your surroundings. Finally, may you know peace and awe, find the divine spirit on your journey.
I love this blessing and, as often as we can, my wife I bestow it upon our little one on Friday evenings as we welcome the Shabbat. Getting the day to run smoothly enough to allow for this occurrence can, at times, feel like trying to get the stars to align. We do manage it, though, on occasion. As our kid grows older, it’s important to my wife and I that we make it work more and more, until it’s a regular thing.
When we do bless our kiddo these days, it’s hard to make that magical circle of energy come to fruition. He’s interested in everything, and (like most toddlers) not really a fan of sitting still. I’m sure he wonders why we aren’t dancing, or running, or climbing something. That’s alright with me. The fact that, every once in a while, I get to focus on what I wish for my kid is enough for now.
It’ll be interesting to see which rituals we develop in our little family as it evolves. What will stick with our toddler as he becomes a kid, then a teen, then an adult. I can’t imagine, and maybe that’s best. When it comes down to it, all we can do is be intentional about what and how we wish a life for our kids, and try to guide them there with the blessings that we’ve received along our own journey.