Bless Your Children. Tonight.

On Monday night, I taught my teen class on Long Island, beginning with a discussion of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. As the conversation proceeded, I realized that the children and teens now growing up have faced the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the murders at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook as key events of their childhood. They have never faced a world that felt safe. During their lives, they watched these violent tragedies take innocent lives and watched as our society introduced metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, armed guards and other security measures in public places that include transportation hubs as well as schools.

A rabbinic colleague raised the question of whether we can or should teach our children that they are safe. I don’t know the answer. At the same time, I do believe that the Jewish tradition gives all of us, whether we are Jewish or not, a great tool for strengthening our children as they face a world that is insecure and, too often, unsafe: blessing our children each week.

In the Jewish tradition, children are blessed on Friday night. But you don’t need to be sitting at a formal, traditional Sabbath table to do it. You can stop wherever you happen to be and bless them. And certainly, if you’re not Jewish, you can use any day or night in your week to do so. Traditionally, parents place their hands on their children’s heads to bless them in person. But I’ve also blessed my kids over the phone and via Skype. And while it’s a parental blessing, I’ve always felt free to bless
campers and youth group members when I’ve been in charge of them over a weekend.

There are traditional biblical verses that are recited [May God bless and watch over you. May God cause His countenance to shine on you and be gracious to you. May God lift His face to you and grant you peace]. But you don’t have to use them, or limit yourself only to these words. You can do it in any language you desire.

And you can use the blessing as the time to assure your children that you will do anything and everything in your power to protect and support them and their lives.

It may seem like a small action to you, but it will mean a lot to your children. Think your kids are too old to want a blessing from their parents? Think again.

Reassure your children starting tonight. And wish them the blessings of peace.

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5 responses

  1. Beautiful! We bless our children every week; sometimes the teenagers (now 18 and 15) balk at having to make the effort, but we know that they really love being blessed. No matter how difficult a week we have had–whether due to national tragedies or mundane mother-daughter conflicts–all our tension and disagreeable feelings melt away during that moment of leaning in close, hands on their heads, and whispering our hopes for their future into their ears. Shabbat shalom!

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    1. Beautifully said!

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  2. Well said, Arnie.

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  3. Nice written! My wife and I added a few brief prayers to our children’s bed time routine when my son was 6 weeks old. Singing the shema and a few other selections every night would calm him down even though he did not know what we were saying. Ten years later, both children sing along with us and look forward to it as that one last little bit of time they get to be awake before sleeping. I’ve lost count of the number of times while traveling or attending a late night committee meeting, where I’ve stepped out into a lobby or vestibule, to say our shema together by cell phone. It’s a truly special experience that I wish all parents would share with their children.

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  4. We bless our children every Friday night and it is always a very heartful experience. We ate by a friend of ours who, when they bless their children Friday night always gives them a very warm hug (some of their kids are in their early 20s). Though we haven’t adopted that as our “tradition” is pretty set, I thought that was a particularly moving way to be connecting meaningfully with a hug at least once a week.

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