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Bless Your Kids

When our children were young, and now when they return home for Shabbat and holidays, we place our hands on their heads and offer the tradition’s blessing:

May God make you like Ephraim and Manashe. (Genesis 48)
May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
May God bless you and guard you.
May God’s face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May God’s face smile at you and grant you peace.

And here is my confession. The first time, and even the second and third times, we offered this blessing, it felt unnatural and awkward. We did not grow up in homes in which our parents recited these words. Of course, our parents hugged us. Of course, they wrapped their arms around us and said, “We love you.”

This ritual formulation, however, was foreign. And so, when I began saying it, I felt like an interloper. “Who am I to say these words?” I thought. It all felt so strange.

Our children also sometimes protested. They shouted that I was hugging them too tightly. Or that I was messing up their hair. Or as they grew older, they fidgeted suggesting that they were in a rush to go out with their friends. But we persisted. And over time, the tradition’s formula became our words. The ritual became our own.

And here is my worry. People appear to think that saying the tradition’s words or offering such a ritual formulation is what rabbis or cantors are supposed do. It’s not what “regular” people do. Rabbis, and cantors, believe every single word of the prayerbook they read and sing. They feel it in their bones every time they chant “Oseh Shalom.” Of course, they are going to bless their kids! Of course, they are going do what the tradition says they are supposed to do.

This priestly benediction is not just mine. It is yours. It belongs to all of us.

And so here is some advice. There is no perfect way to say it or even do it. There is no perfect way of placing your hands on your children’s heads. There is not a right way and a wrong way. Don’t worry so much about if you are doing it exactly as Jacob did or if you are pronouncing the words correctly.

It is important to have a ritual framework to express love. It is wonderful for children to feel our loving hands on their heads. It is good to do so at least once a week. Make that moment Shabbat evening.

Let go of the worry. Grab hold of the tradition. Make it your own. It may not feel right at first, but over time it may very well become your own.