Some of my fondest memories are of my family’s Friday night Shabbos dinner table as I was growing up. The joy and song of the moment was always backed by the serenity on our parents’ faces, reflecting the strength and devotion of two people who were committed to raising their nine children to be proud Jews in the remote town of Springs, South Africa, so many thousands of miles from their native Israel.
In a ritual that blended love with awe, at the beginning of the Erev Shabbos meal, just before Kiddush, in birth order, each child would approach our father for a solemn blessing, the priestly blessing of which we read in this week’s Torah portion: ‘May G-d bless you and guard you; May he shine his countenance upon you and grant you grace; May he lift his face towards you and bless you with peace’. I was pleasantly reminded of this ritual recently, as one of our members told me that he proudly blesses his grown children before Shabbos each week.
My father’s holy blessing was always preceded by a brief prayer ‘May you merit to be like Efraim and Menashe…’. We never quite understood why our parents would want us to be specifically like these two biblical characters more than any other, until we became parents ourselves.
As Chana and I raise our seven precious children here in Palm Beach Gardens, thousands of miles from our native homes and our parents, we draw great inspiration and meaning in the very same blessing my parents would bless us with.
Efraim and Menashe were the two sons of Joseph, Ruler of Egypt in Biblical Times. Unlike their Jewish cousins, these two boys were born in Egypt and not in the spiritual cradle of Israel. Despite being born in a culture of decadence and paganism, they managed to maintain their identity as proud Jews.
This is the heartfelt prayer of Jewish parents to their children through the past two centuries of exile: Have the courage to be proud Jews, no matter what your friends say. Stand up for your people no matter the allure of the world that surrounds you!
Have you considered offering this blessing to your kids as well? Imagine what would happen if every Friday afternoon you called your kids for a brief moment and blessed them from the bottom of your heart with this timeless blessing:
[For a son:] May G‑d make you like Ephraim and Menasseh.
[For a daughter:] May G‑d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
The L-rd spoke to Moses saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them: ‘May the L-rd bless you and watch over you. May the L-rd cause His countenance to shine to you and favor you. May the L-rd raise His countenance toward you and grant you peace.’ They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
By taking the time to introduce this special ritual into your life, you will be sure to experience closer family bonds with your children in addition to imparting upon them the coded blessing that Jewish parents have given their children for millenia: infusing them with the courage and qualities they need to ensure a stronger Jewish Future!