When I was an assistant rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J., I celebrated with the early childhood program at their weekly Shabbat party. A few parents would join their children for the festivities, and they were invited to stay behind for a few moments with the rabbi.
The parents and students gathered with me in the front of the chapel, by the Aron Kodesh, the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Then came my favorite part of the morning: when I instructed the parents to hold their children close, maybe even place a hand on their children’s head or shoulders. I explained that it is customary for parents to bless their children on Friday evening, often right after the candles are lit. I taught them the words of the traditional blessing.
I then asked them to whisper a “secret Shabbat blessing” into their children’s ear – to go beyond the words on the page and find the blessing in their heart. The preschoolers kept wiggling and squirming, but the room became filled with laughter and smiles and indescribable sounds of happiness.
How often do we tell the people in our lives that we love them? And more than that, how often do we share with them how they are special to us?
This, in and of itself, is reason enough to bless each other. There is another reason, though, that I think it important for parents to offer a “secret Shabbat blessing” of their own. We may be used to giving compliments to children: “That’s a beautiful shiny bow you’re wearing.” “You sat so quietly today.” “I like the truck on your T-shirt.” While a compliment is a form of praise, most only touch the surface. A blessing, on the other hand, connects us to something deeper – to who we really are.
We can bless our children for so many reasons. A (very) partial list might include:
- because they tried their best (even if it didn’t work out)
- because they worked hard and did better the next time
- because they learned something new
- because they acted as a good friend (or sibling or helper)
- because they were kind
- because they were brave
- because they shared (even when it was difficult)
- because they demonstrated a wonderful sense of humor
- because they were a team player
- because they were honest (even when it came at a cost)
- because they asked a good question
- because they learned how to make good choices
When we offer our children their own Shabbat blessing, one tailored just for them – based upon how we have seem them grow and learn and live in the past week – we show them that we notice them, we demonstrate that we value them, and we teach them that we love them for their successes and struggles and, indeed, their entire being, not just what shows up on the surface.
We teach them that we want them to grow up to be menschen, people of integrity and honor, and that we are there for them on that journey.
In essence, we teach them that they are loved and blessed because they have a beautiful neshama, soul and spirit. We teach them that the Source of Life and Blessing flows through them – their breath, their life, their actions. We teach them that they are a gift from God.