Over the past many months, as we have discovered the joy and beauty of Shabbat through the eyes of our loving Beth Emet community, several themes have emerged that highlight its sweetness and its sacredness. We have seen, again and again, the familiar tropes of family and time and togetherness. It is in how each of these themes is expressed, from family to family, person to person, that gives the universality of Shabbat its unique and special flavor.
Not everyone lights candles. Not everyone shuts down electronics, like computers and phones. Some take more time to savor the day, while for others, there is a rush of family and friends to fill the space. For some, there are services; others enjoy a more quiet and solitary contemplation.
It's all good. It all flows. It all recognizes the distinction, the separation of the every day and ordinary from the extraordinary and the holy.
One ritual that is practiced in many households all over the world on Shabbat is the blessing of the children. It is a simple and loving moment, a chance for parents to offer a blessing for their children, that they may connect with their past, their community and God. It is a moment that can add a bit of spirituality and bring closeness between parents and their children.
Remember seeing Fiddler on the Roof? An early scene is "Sabbath Prayer," and there, we see countless candles being lit on a Friday evening, as we hear the words "May you be like Ruth and like Esther. May you be deserving of praise..." While the words are a little off the actual blessing, the sentiment and ritual are right on the mark.
The words for the Children's Blessing come from Torah, from the priestly benediction (Numbers 6:24-26). The introduction to the prayer changes, depending on if the blessing is for a boy or a girl.
For boys, the introductory line is this:
May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.
Y'simchah elohim c'Ephraim v'Mannashe
For girls, it is this:
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.
Y'simach elohim c'Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel v'Leah.
The blessing continues, for both boys and girls:
May God bless you and guard you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
Yivarechechah adonai v'yishmerecha
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
Ya'er adonai panav eilecha vichunekah
May God show you kindness and grant you wholeness and peace.
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום
Yisah adonai eilecha v'yasem lecha shalom.
How you offer the blessing depends upon the family. Do moms bless their daughters, while dads bless their sons? Both together? One after the other? Choose what feels comfortable for your family - but forge a lasting connection. Place your hands on your child's head while offering this blessing. End with a kiss, a hug, maybe even a few words of your own for each child.
This is not a requirement of Shabbat. There is no commandment telling us to bless our children in this way. However, what a sweet and gentle way to begin our journey into the holiness of Shabbat!
STACEY ZISOOK ROBINSON has been writing poetry and creative non-fiction since she launched her blog, Stumbling towards meaning, in 2009. Prior to that, she wrote in the old-fashion way, using pen and paper. Using a digital format, she can write faster, delete easier and reach a much wider audience. In addition to her blog, she is a regular contributor to the Reform Judaism blog, and is privileged to be a writer at several online sites, including iPinionsyndicate.com and thesmartly.com. She was published last year in the summer issue of Lilith Magazine, and was one of the featured authors in Beth Emet's Memorial Book for 2013/5774. She lives in Skokie with her son, Nate. Stacey is also the curator of The Shabbat Project, Beth Emet's weekly e-newsletter focusing on reflections of Shabbat.