My wife and I have been blessed with a large family. The size of our “brood” has typically been a source of joy (not to mention excitement). At times, though, it runs both us and the kids a bit ragged. Late bedtimes, early risings, mad dashes to carpool, my work, hers, school work, homework and extra-curriculars are all part of our daily routine. We are observant Jews; so add to the mix prayer groups, Torah (Bible) study and a liberal sprinkling of volunteer work. Our family, not uncommonly, hobbles across the week’s finish line, emotionally and physically drained. The Friday night Shabbat meal, which we celebrate together, is one opportunity to recharge our batteries. It also sets the stage for the weekly blessings.
A little before I chant Kiddush – the “toast” in honor of Shabbat – my children begin to approach me. They come in descending age order, starting with my teenage daughter and concluding with my 3 year old son. I place my hands over each one’s head and look into her eyes. Then I whisper the ancient blessings found in Numbers: 6: May G-d bless you and watch over you. May G-d shine His face toward you and grant you favor. May G-d raise His face toward you and grant you peace.
Although the text remains a constant, context is anything but an exercise in uniformity. Some children come promptly and on their own; others take their time, and only after being invited. Some stand ramrod straight; others – typically the smaller in size – grab onto my arms and lift their feet off the ground!
My wife and I do not force, cajole or otherwise manipulate the children into coming for the blessings. Indeed, on any week, a child or two may show his displeasure toward either of us by declining… and that’s O.K. We don’t offer incentives; the reward for showing up is the blessings themselves.
Also, our ritual is robust enough to withstand our kids’ shortcomings. The children receive the blessings whether or not they’ve performed their pre-Shabbat chores. No child forfeits her blessings on account of misdeeds – even serious ones. (When limits need to be set and consequences are decided upon, they will occur against backdrops other than this one.) Because we haven’t attached a price tag to the weekly blessings, they are beyond value.
I believe in the power of the weekly blessings. The unconditional manner in which they are shared soothes and reassures our children: “We, your parents, will, to the best of our abilities, always be there for you – no matter what.” Inasmuch as that my wife and I are observant Jews – believing Jews – this reflects both what we’ve been taught, through the text of the blessings, and what we each, in his/her own way, has come to sense: Our Parent in Heaven has been and will continue to be there for us – no matter what – watching us, shining for us and granting us peace.
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