Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Vayechi - 5776

My friends,

This Shabbat, we read the last portion in the Book of Genesis. Jacob and his entire family had come down to Egypt because of the famine and also to be reunited with Joseph after a separation of more than twenty years. This week's Parasha begins with the words, "Vayechi Yaakov" - Jacob lived in Egypt 17 years. He is now very sick. Jacob's children, including Joseph and his children, gather around Jacob to be blessed before he dies. He makes Joseph promise him that he will not bury him in Egypt but will carry his body and bury him in the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron in Israel, where Abraham and Isaac and the matriarchs are buried.

Before his death, Jacob blesses each of his children. He also bestows a special blessing on Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. He tells Joseph that, in the future when parents want to bless their children, they will say, "May G-d make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." This tradition of blessing our children in this manner goes back hundred of years. The Midrash commands us to bless our children on Shabbat, the day of peace and blessing, a day that is blessed from the day of creation.

It is the duty of the parent to direct these blessings on his/her children, by saying, "May G-d make you life Ephraim and Manasseh" for a boy, and, "May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah" for a girl. This is followed by pronouncing the 15-word Priestly Blessing.

I believe that this is a wonderful custom that can strengthen the family and make us realize how blessed we are by having our children. The Mitzvah is to place our hands on the child's head and recite this blessing. Even when the child is away (at school or at work), we can raise our hand and direct it towards the child wherever he/she might be.

It is a time to show gratitude and appreciation to G-d for the gift of having the child/grandchild. It is a time to count our blessings for the pride and joy we derive from our kids. It is also the time to ask for G-d's blessings upon the child, for protection of body and soul, for success and for peace.

Are you blessing your child every Shabbat? If you are, that's great. If you are not, it is not because you don't care - it's just because it was never part of your practices.

It is never too late to start. You will find the "Jewish Children's Blessing" online. It is easy and it adds to the Shabbat environment.

"Yevarechecha Hashem Veyishmerecha" - "May G-d bless you and protect you."

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram