Blessing Our Daughters

Why did Jacob not bless his daughters before he died?

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A Different Blessing

Why are the blessings so different? Rabbi Richard Levy suggests the following contemporary reason for interpreting the difference:

"Just as Ephraim and Manasseh received their merit not through any acts of their own but only because they were alive and were descendants of Jacob (as are we all), so Jewish boys need not feel that their parents' love is dependent on their accomplishments; they are beloved just because they are children. For Jewish girls, however, who might be inclined by society's prejudices to think that because they are girls they need nor set their sights very high, the blessing holds them up to the highest models: May God make you like the greatest women the Torah knows-Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah" ("Parashat Vayehi," in Learn Torah With…, 1996, Vol. 2, No. 12).

As our community mores continue to evolve, one might claim that we now expect both our daughters and our sons to set their sights high. We also hope to create an environment where both daughters and sons feel valued simply because they are alive-and are our children. So perhaps there is yet another way to interpret these blessings, one that accounts for changes we value in our contemporary world.

Maybe we can understand Jacob's blessing of his grandchildren this way: "Ephraim, may God help you become the best that Ephraim can be; Manasseh, may God help you become the best that Manasseh can be!" Maybe we should fill in the names of our own children as we bless them. So I would say to my daughter: "Elana, may you be fully Elana!" And to my son I would say: "Joshua, may you be fully Joshua!" Or, in the words of the modern Jewish poet Marcia Falk: "Be who you are ... and may you be blessed in all that you are" (The Book of Blessings, 1996). 

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Rabbi Laura Geller

Rabbi Laura Geller is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California. She is the first woman to be selected to lead a major metropolitan synagogue. Prior to being chosen for this position in 1994, she served as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, Pacific Southwest Region.