One of the sweetest moments on Friday night occurs when parents bless their children. In Hebrew it is called: Birchot HaBanim. Whether it occurs at the Shabbat dinner table or later at services, it is a remarkably significant moment when parents place their hands upon their children and offer them a blessing.
The origin of this practice is found in this week’s parasha. Near the end of his life, Jacob summons his son, Joseph, as well as Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. As we read in Genesis 48.20, Jacob blesses his grandsons with these words, Y’simcha Elohim K’Ephraim V’Chi’Menashe – May God make you like Ephraim and Menasseh.
It is customary in traditional Jewish homes on Shabbat evening for the father of the house to bless his sons with these exact words from Genesis. In addition, he blesses his daughters by expressing the hope: Y’simeich Elohim k”Sarah, k’Rivkah, k’Rachel uch’Leah -- May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
In Reform Jewish homes, we encourage not only fathers, but mothers as well to bless their children. Parents may choose to offer these two distinct blessings for sons and daughters. Or they may wish to offer instead the following blessings from Torah that make no distinction in gender:
Y’varechecha Adonai Veyishmerecha
Yaeir Adonai Panav Eilecha Vichuneka
Yisa Adonai Panav Eilecha Veyasem Lecha Shalom.
May God bless and guard you.
May the light of God shine upon you, and may God be gracious to you.
May the presence of God be with you and give you peace.
In our congregation, it is not only parents who may bestow these blessings upon their children. It is a lovely sight in our congregation when family and friends reach out to embrace one another and bless and receive these holy words.
Originally published in 2007