We begin the month of June with Parashat Naso, the Torah portion of Naso, in which we learn about the priest’s role in Ancient Israel with regards to his relationship with the people. This parasha includes arguably the most famous of blessings, the priestly benediction. Chapter six of the book of numbers concludes with God telling Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons, the high priests, that they should bless the people of Israel as follows:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! May the Lord bestow God’s favor upon you and grant you peace!”
These words of blessing are referred to as a single blessing or benediction and yet they are really three separate blessings woven together: a blessing for protection, a blessing for kindness towards others as well as from others, and lastly a blessing of peace. While this blessing is said regularly during services as part of the repetition of the Amidah or in more traditional contexts during duchenen on Festivals, these words are familiar to so many of us because they are the words we use to bless our children on Friday evening as we welcome in Shabbat. Although these words were reserved for ritual, exclusively when Aaron blessed the entire nation, they are especially fitting on the personal level as a blessing that parents offer a child. The reality of parenting is that children become fiercely independent way too quickly. This is true for the teenager with a driver’s license, the middle school student who no longer wants to “hang out” with her parents, or the elementary school student who prefers to do tasks on his own, even if done incorrectly. The same is even true for my own daughter who at just nineteen months old insists on picking out her own outfits every day. Such independence helps parents realize that we cannot protect our children from the challenges of the “real world” forever so we turn to God and pray.
We pray that God will continue to protect them as they make mistakes, because we all make mistakes and frankly, part of what it means to be independent is to make mistakes. Such protection gives children (and adults!) the courage to try again after making mistakes! We pray to God for kindness in hopes that the lessons we have taught our children, and ethics and values we have instilled in our children, will carry with them as they become more independent. Making decisions on their own, we pray that they will be kind to everyone, to never superficially judge another, and to always greet someone with a cheerful face. Additionally, we pray that others will be kind to our own children. There are no security blankets in the real world that we can cling to when we are frightened and there are plenty of mean people that deflate kindness. We pray that the kindness of our children ignites a spark in others, creating a cultural shift and making an effort for everyone to be kinder to each other. When this happens our final prayer, a prayer for peace, will become a reality.
Never stop praying with your children. No matter how much they grow up or how old they get, you will always be there to protect them, teach them kindness, and help them make peace in this world a reality. Let us recite these words of blessing as we bless our children every Shabbat and let us not be afraid to add our own personal words of blessing as well. Let us never stop blessing our children because they bless our lives every day with everything that they do.
-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky
(Also published in the June 2012 edition of the Jacksonville Jewish News)