On Friday night as Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins, many parents give blessings not just over something – like candles, wine, or challah – but to someone. They bless their children.
It’s a tradition all parents can find value in. Whether your Friday night dinner is roasted chicken or takeout pizza, you can take a moment to draw your children close and, in traditional or improvised words (or both), say what you appreciate about them and wish for them.
Blessing the Children is a ritual you can make your own – either on Shabbat evening (when it is typically practiced) or on Jewish holidays…or anytime.
Blessing the Children is an intimate moment. Some parents place their hands on the head of the child they are blessing. Parents of very young ones hold them in their arms. The interaction is almost always sealed with a hug or kiss.
The more generations the merrier. Grandparents and other relatives can join in, too, whether in person or over Facetime or the phone.
Many parents take the opportunity to whisper a “secret blessing” to their child – something they’ve admired about their child in the past week or something private or funny they want to share.
The traditional Blessing of the Children consists of a warm-up and a three-part blessing.
May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah / May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe
[In Hebrew] Yesimech Elohim ke’Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, ve’Leah / Yesimcha Elohim ke’Ephraim v’che’Menashe
The warm-up expresses the wish that our children will embody the best qualities of those who came before them. It is rooted in a biblical story – when Jacob, at the end of his life, blessed his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, saying: “By you shall all of Israel give blessings.” Ephraim and Menashe are among the first biblical brothers to have a harmonious relationship, and the four Jewish matriarchs are known for their faith and compassion, despite lives of challenge and hardship.
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine light on you and be gracious to you.
May God turn toward you and grant you peace.
Yevarechecha Adonai veyishmerecha
Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha viyechuneka
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha veyasem lecha shalom
The three-part blessing is 3000 years old – the oldest blessing Jews have. It’s a timeless wish for well-being and peace, first used for blessing the people of Israel in desert wanderings and in the Temple in Jerusalem. The three lines of ancient Hebrew have a uniquely expanding and mesmerizing structure: three words [Yeverechecha…], then five words [Ya’er…], then seven words [Yisa…].
May you be like… (Choose a person whose qualities will inspire your child.)
Always be safe—
Shine light in the world—
And feel truly at peace with yourself
(This alternative text reflects the meaning of the traditional Hebrew blessing, and also preserves its unique three-word / five-word / seven-word structure.)
Or give your child your own personal blessing or wishes.
This week I was proud of you for...
Next week I hope you’ll…
USING THE PJ LIBRARY NEVER-ENDER
Because it’s often easier being the blesser than the blessee, PJ Library has created something for kids (especially restless ones!) to hold and use during the blessing. We call it a Never-Ender, a series of continuously unfolding panels (in the spirit of each generation blessing the next), a sort of “mindfulness tool” for Shabbat.
For kids of all ages, it’s tactile, visual, and physically repetitive.
Young children will simply enjoy how the Never-Ender keeps unfolding.
Slightly older children may notice the diversity of the parents and children depicted in the illustrations – skin, hair, gender, how each family is unique and how a common heritage still binds us. (They might enjoy mixing and matching the illustrated panels.)
And still older children, with a parent’s help, may notice how the blessing progresses from panel to panel – from home to community to the Jewish world (and throughout unfurling Jewish history), and finally, to the “first Shabbat,” with plates on the table representing the six days of Creation, as described in the Book of Genesis.
The age-old parenting wisdom that "the days are long, but the years are short" rings true for many of us. Taking a moment to pause each week and celebrate our children can be a meaningful collaborative ritual.