The Stability of the Priestly Blessing

The priestly blessing with which parents bless their children on Shabbat gives parents an opportunity to partner with God in shaping Jewish history and ensuring continuity.

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Parashat Naso includes an unusual interlude in its varied narrative. During the course of the parashah, we read of the complete listing of tribal princes and their individual offerings at the consecration of the Sanctuary; the detailed obligations of the nazir, a man who takes a special vow of holiness and added restrictions upon himself; and the complexities of the sotah, a woman suspected of marital infidelity. Among these many topics, the Torah seemingly takes a break to include the threefold priestly blessing that the Kohanim (priests) recite:

May Hashem (God) bless you and protect you.
May Hashem cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May Hashem raise His face to you and establish peace for you.

This bracha (blessing), which has become part of the standard tefillah (prayer service), also underpins one of the most beautiful Shabbat customs, practiced by many families. On Friday night, before kiddush (the sanctification blessing, recited over wine), it is traditional for fathers and mothers to bless each of their children, reciting the above formula.

For me, these few moments, when each of my six children line up to be blessed, constitute the peak of my limited quality-time with them. It is nothing less than an opportunity to both reconnect and also transmit Hashem’s loving kindness and compassion. It is the hope of these holy blessings that our children should merit zara, chaya ve’kayama–to themselves raise beautiful committed Jewish children, and enjoy good health and material prosperity.

Over the past years of violence in Israel, I have often reflected on the inappropriateness and premature obsolescence of a bestseller that was popular several years ago, entitled After the End of History. The lively public debate it engendered then seems superfluous given recent events here in Israel, as well as those in New York, Argentina, and Europe, and their effects on entire Jewish communities and families.

In an environment buffeted by economic, political, and religious crises, our much-needed emotional anchors are few and far between. We seek stability and continuity amidst the incessant incidents and frequently shifting news. We seek comfort amidst “the situation,” when every ambulance siren and every clattering helicopter overhead can signal yet more death and destruction.

During this season of Shavuot, we celebrate the revelation at Mount Sinai, when Hashem gave us the Torah and thus imparted a blueprint for Jewish life, values, and continuity. Shabbat, too, is an all-surrounding experience that connects us with all of Jewish history and existence–from creation to the covenant at Sinai to the eventual Messianic era of total unity. And the 17 words that comprise the priestly blessing do so as well, serving as yet another means for us as parents to act as Hashem’s partners in shaping Jewish history, in renewing intergenerational bonds, and ensuring continuity.

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