A Blessing On Their Heads

“May the L-rd protect and defend you. May He always shield you from shame.
May you come to be in Israel a shining name” (“Sabbath Prayer,” Fiddler on the Roof).

Perhaps you recognize these words from Tevya and Golde’s Sabbath prayer for their five daughters in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. More than simply a beautiful song, however, “The Sabbath Prayer” is Broadway’s transformation of the weekly Shabbat custom of Jewish parents to bless their children on Friday night.

In the traditional form of Birkat Habanim, the parent places both hands on the child’s head (going from oldest to youngest) and blesses him or her. Whether both parents participate or just the father is a decision that each individual family may make.

There are different blessings for boys and girls, but they share the same concluding verses: the priestly blessings.

For Boys:
Y’simcha Eh-lokim k’Ephraim v’chiM’nasheh.

May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.

For Girls:
Yi’see’maych Eh-lokim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, v’Lay’ah.

May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Continued for both:
Y’va’reh’ch’cha A-donai v’yish’m’recha.
Ya’ayr A-donai panav ay’leh’cha vee’chu’neh’ka.
Yee’sah A-donai panav ay’leh’cha, v’yah’saym l’cha shalom.

May God bless you and watch over you.
May God shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May God be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace.

Not just for kids: There are various opinions about blessing grown-up children or children who are not at home for Shabbat. Many people continue to bless their children no matter how old they are. Indeed, as children become adults and start their own families, some parents have a custom of also blessing their children's spouses, as they are now like sons and daughters. In some homes it is also the practice to recite the blessing for children who are not home, by having those children in mind or calling them before Shabbat to bless them.

Twebrew School: Shabbat is brought to you on behalf of Shabbat Across America and Shabbat Across Canada, the only cross-continental celebration of Shabbat. The fourteenth annual SAA/C will take place on March 5, 2010. To learn more, click here.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.


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