In this week’s Torah reading, Jacob blesses his children as he knows his last days are nearing. Based on these verses, we learn to bless our children every Friday night. We use the words of Jacob, and the verses of the Priestly Blessing, to add strength and balance to our children. It’s a beautiful journey’s end for Jacob, the ancestor who seemed to parent so badly now leaves us with the formula for parenting strongly.
But it raises a discussion about what is the nature of blessing another person. Do we offer a blessing to reinforce a strength they already have or are we praying for a strength they need? Is Jacob noticing individual traits within his children that should be expanded or is he praying for traits he thinks they lack and need?
Because we are who we are, there are great opinions throughout Jewish texts that line up on both sides of that question. We offer blessings that reinforce, and we offer blessings that introduce newness. When it comes to our children, we offer both.
Traditionally, a parent places their hands on the child’s head and recites the traditional blessings. It’s a beautiful and powerful family moment, unless you weren’t raised with it and now it feels awkward. Today, many parents love the idea of this but feel too uncomfortable placing their hands on someone’s head, especially if it’s a family gathering, and others are present. The strangeness of the physical ritual now creates the barrier.
While there are beautiful reasons behind placing parental hands on a child’s head, that is not the crux of the moment –it is the blessing that flows from a parent for a child that sits at the core. We layer the moment, so we include the traditional words which can then be followed with a personal blessing. We offer words to strengthen something unique we already see in them, as well as to invite a new strength into their lives. We do not need to place our hands on their heads because a child can be held in our arms while we whisper these blessings, or they can be held in our thoughts while we whisper these same blessings.
As our children and grandchildren get older, they may not be at our Shabbat tables, but they are always residing in our hearts and that’s where blessings are created. Our ancestors bring many different things into our lives, Jacob brought us this one and we can’t thank him enough.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.