Blessing our children

My wife and I bless the children every Friday night with the words in this Torah reading followed by the Priestly Blessing.

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski ,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski

The Torah Portion of VaYechi; Genesis 47:28–50:26

Jacob blesses his grandchildren with the following words ;

In the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land."(Genesis 48:16)

Jacob goes on to say "So he blessed them on that day, saying, "With you, Israel will bless, saying, 'May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh,' "(ibid 20)

As a result, these words have impacted prayers and the blessings given over to our children throughout the generations.

Every Friday night my wife and I engage in a ceremony that is both moving and empowering. Before the Shabbat, meal we each approach a child and put our hands on their heads and bless them, one by one.

Though we each add our own thoughts and wishes, we continue our prayers and thoughts with the words taken from the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) . As we approach a son or a daughter, we preface this priestly blessing with a declaration;

For our sons we begin with the words; May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.

For our daughters we declare, May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.

Prayer is about attempting to change reality. Blessing is not about changing reality but rather it is about unleashing it. The Hebrew for blessing is Berachah, which shares its root with the Hebrew word l’havrich, an agricultural term that describes the re-rooting of a vine into the ground . In working in a vineyard havracha, ‘or kneeling’, involves taking a rooted plant and ‘kneeling‘ it down into the ground and then this replanted vine eventually takes root as well.

When a blessing is bestowed, what is accomplished is the joining of the spark of blessing in the person’s soul with the source of blessing above. In effect, nothing new happens. The blessing merely activates the existing source of the blessing above and reveals it below.

It simply re-roots the soul back into its Divine source

The Birkat HaKohanim ( the Priestly blessing Numbers 6:24-26) is in fact such a process of Blessing. The Kohanim act as a funnel from the source of all blessings to reveal what is there waiting to be revealed.

“This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, …..They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.” (Numbers 5: 23-27)

Beginning the blessing with our daughters with the words May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah is self-evident. These were all women who remained faithful to Hashem and to their destiny throughout all types of challenges and obstacles.

But with our male children why begin with the words “like Ephraim and like Menashe”? Why not like Abraham or like Isaac?

-To begin with these two brothers seem to be have been able to grow and thrive without the sibling rivalry that had afflicted their family for generations.

-Secondly although Ephraim and Menashe were the first two children to be born into the exile of Egypt they remained faithful to their people's journey in that non accepting environment.

-Yet there is more. At their birth Joseph gave them names that would carry eternal meaning and direction for all the people of Israel.

“Menashe and Ephraim were born to Joseph before the year of the famine set in, whom Osnat the daughter of Poti -phera, the governor of On, bore to him. And Joseph named the firstborn Menashe, for “G-d has caused me to forget all my hardships and all my father’s house.” And the second one he named Ephraim, for “G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”(ibid 41:50-52)

The upbringing of Menashe and Ephraim would offer needed instruction for the coping mechanisms necessary amidst exile as well as in all the difficult phases in our individual lives as well.

That is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child. the strength to overcome failures and obstacles and the ability to see and acknowledge the wonders and miracles around us.
The naming of the first born son Menashe teaches the first lesson.”G-d has caused me to forget all my toil “. The difficulties and persecutions of our national or individual journeys could be so overwhelming that it could stop us from moving forward. That is true in our people’s history as it is true of each of us in our own spiritual walk.

Therein is the power of G-d Who has caused me to forget all my hardships To move forward despite those experiences of hardship and failure.

Yet on the other hand we must also learn the lesson ensconced in the name of Ephraim, ”G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The simple act of gratitude (hakarat haTov) for what there is all around us is a critical key for moving forward out of “affliction” and into healthy growth. We must learn to be aware and thankful for what good there is around us in order to have the strength to move forward.

That is the greatest gift a parent can give to a child. the strength to overcome failures and obstacles and the ability to see and acknowledge the wonders and miracles around us.

When as parents we place our hands on our children's heads and pour into them our greatest wishes, we too experience the feeling that overcame Isaac even after he found out that it was Jacob that he blessed, ”And he is blessed." ( Genesis 27:33).

As we have described, the one giving the blessing is not the source of the blessing but just the conduit.

The power of the blessing com es from returning the receiver back to the source of all blessings. When that happens we the parents, the ultimate conduits of our children’s soulful needs, feel that experience in our own very essence.

LeRefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,