Yossi Goldin
Yossi Goldin

Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Vayechi- ‘Blessing our Children, Seeing Our Children as Blessings’

Many commentaries point out that Sefer Bereishit describes the creation of the Jewish people as individuals and as families, whereas Sefer Shemot is the story of the creation of Am Yisrael as a nation. That being the case, as we conclude Sefer Bereishit- and the era of the Avot and their families comes to a close- we could expect this final Parsha to contain important lessons regarding the Jewish family.

The main theme coursing throughout most of the parsha is that of brachot, of blessings- not simply any blessings, but specifically those of a parent to his children/grandchildren. The parsha’s central section describes the unique brachot that Yaacov gives to each of his sons. Earlier on, in the beginning of the parsha, the Torah describes Yaacov’s encounter with Yosef’s sons, Menashe and Ephraim, and the special brachot he bestows upon them as well.  Appropriately, one of the brachot that Yaacov gives his grandchildren encapsulates Jewish continuity- as he proclaims that through Menashe and Ephraim, Am Yisrael will bless their children. This is the source for the minhag that many families have for the father (and in some families, the mother, as well) to bless each of their children every Friday night, quoting this passuk from the parsha, as well as the pesukim from Birkat Kohanim.

Many of us have fond memories of this minhag growing up in our parents’ home, and have continued the custom as parents. But I would like to gain a greater appreciation for this idea. Why is it so important that a parent bless his children- to the extent that it is the dominant theme of the final parsha in Sefer Bereishit, and then established as a minhag for generations?

I believe that the opportunity to bless our children each week carries tremendous depth and meaning, on a few levels. First of all, it enables us to connect to our tradition and mesorah. As we give the same blessing to our children each Friday night that Yaacov Avinu gave to his grandchildren, and the same bracha that Jews have given to their children for thousands of years, we tap into Jewish tradition across the ages. While the Torah and its mitzvot are eternal, the customs of the Jewish people have understandably shifted over the ages. There are, therefore, very few minhagim that we can say have been kept throughout the ages, dating back to the times of the Avot. To tap into that legacy, continue it, and carry it forward, is a unique opportunity and privilege.

But these weekly brachot are so much more than that. They are an opportunity for us to speak to each of our children individually, and where we have their complete attention, even if only for one or two minutes. It’s an opportunity for us to look them in the eye and share words of blessing, and, through those words, let them know how precious they are to us. The weekly bracha has the potential to be a moment of shared closeness that rarely materializes otherwise in our busy lives, but which is so important for both parents and children.

In line with this opportunity, on a personal note, I began a new practice a few years ago. After I give the standard bracha to each child, I then continue with another, more personal bracha in my own words. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to highlight aspects of their week of which I am particularly proud, other times I highlight unique aspects of their personality, and often I bless them with the hopes and dreams that my wife and I have for them as they grow as Ovdei Hashem.  Of course, I then end with a declaration of the love that Shifra and I have for them, followed by a small kiss on their forehead, an action that probably speaks much louder than my words.

And while this process does admittedly delay our Friday night kiddush a few extra minutes, it has transformed this ritual into moments that I cherish each week; granting me the privilege to share this unique time with each of my children in an incredibly meaningful way.

And perhaps most importantly, through these brachot, we remind ourselves that, not only are our children the subject of our blessings, but they are also our blessings themselves. The business and the stress of life can often cause us to lose our perspective- and once a week, as we bless and kiss our children, we remind ourselves, and relay to our children, the true blessing that they are in our lives. There is therefore no more appropriate time for these brachot than Friday evening. As Shabbos enters and we take time to reflect on all that we have- there is no better time to recognize the blessings that are our children.

The phenomenon of a parent blessing their children has the potential to carry tremendous meaning- to the extent that it is main theme of the final parsha of Sefer Bereishit, and is then established as custom for all generations. While it would be easy for this minhag to become something done by rote, without much thought, I would encourage us all to realize the tremendous opportunities  embedded in these moments, and to take advantage of them, each in our own way.

Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and Yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at yossigoldin@gmail.com.
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