When I became a parent, one of the most exciting moments for me was — and continues to be — the occasion on Friday nights when we bless our children:
May God make you like Efraim and Menasheh/ May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
May God bless you and protect you.
May God shine His face upon you and be gracious to you.
May God lift His face toward you and give you peace.
The children’s blessing on Shabbat is a moment for every child to know and feel the parent’s love, regardless of what else happened that day. For the parents, it’s a moment to express their love for their child, no matter what else happened that week.
It’s a shining example of Jewish rituals as vehicles for creating family memories. It provides a space to say and show “I love you.”
The text itself, specifically the three-fold blessing, is as timeless as love itself. Our Parsha, Naso, lists these blessings for the priest to bless the Israelites (Numbers. 6:24-26). We recreate this in Israel every day in the Amidah’s repetition, while in the diaspora on the Festivals.
These words are at the heart of a fantastic archaeological adventure too. In 1979, the archaeologist Gabriel Barkay was exploring ancient burial caves in Jerusalem, when his 13-year-old assistant discovered a hidden chamber. Inside were lots of ancient artifacts, including two silver scrolls less than an inch long: amulets. Written inside were the priestly blessings above. Significantly, said the archaeologist, they are the only original biblical verses from the First Temple Period. These 15 words moved our ancestors 2600 years ago, just as they inspire us today.
What is so powerful and potent about these three lines?
I think this is a prime example of God and people working together to add holiness to our world. The previous verses read, “God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: “This is how you shall bless the Israelites: Say to them…”’” Exactly who is blessing the Israelites, God or the priests? It appears to be both.
A Midrash relates: The House of Israel said to the Holy One, “Lord of the universe, You order the priests to bless us? We need only Your blessing…” The Holy One replied to them, “Though I ordered the priests to bless you, I will stand together with them and bless you.”
God is the one who makes the blessings happen: “May God bless you…” But the blessing is only effective when the priests deliver it. Without the priests, the Israelites cannot feel God’s love. God’s love is never absent, but it is invisible. With the priests bestowing blessings, God’s love becomes more easily felt. And without God, the priests have nothing to share except personal best wishes. God and people need each other.
God and people work together to make God’s presence more apparent. God needs us to bless our children on Shabbat because feeling a parent’s love is the closest children can come to experiencing God’s love. And we need God to bless our children because we’re not always there to watch over our kids.
May we have a Shabbat Shalom — of peace and love —between us and God, between us and our parents and children, this week and every week.