Thursday, January 1, 2015

Vayechi- Blessings Don't Always Look Like You Think They Should

Hamal’akh hago’eleil oti mikol ra y’vavareikh et-han’arim v’yikarei vahem shmi vsheim avotai Avraham v’Yitzchak v'yidgu larov b’kerev ha’aretz.
The angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless these youth, and let my name be carried on through them and the names of my fathers, Avraham and Isaac, and let them grow into many across the earth. (Breishit 48:16)
Most of us are familiar with the Shabbat evening blessing of the children:

For a son:
Y’simcha Elohim k’Efrayim v’khi’M’nashe.
For a daughter:
Y’simeikh Elohim k’Sara, Rivka, Racheil, v’Lei’ah.

The line that follows the gendered blessing is the kohanic blessing from parashat Naso. However, the blessing given by Jacob is something else.
On his deathbed, Jacob calls Joseph along with his sons, Menashe and Efrayim, to him. In that moment, he “adopts” Menashe and Efrayim as his own. In doing so, he entitles each of them an inheritance equal to that of Jacob’s other sons. At that time, he not only passes on a physical inheritance, but a spiritual one. It is a blessing of protection. Jacob invokes the protection he has enjoyed for Menashe and Efrayim. It is a blessing of hope for the future with the promise of growth. And it is a blessing of connection from one generation to another, as Jacob asks that his name and the names of his fathers be carried on, a plea not to be forgotten.
It has become the custom in many homes to add Jacob’s blessing to the traditional blessing of the children. It connects our blessing further to that of our ancestors, and to our own personal angels mentioned in Shalom Aleikhem. The story appears in Talmud (Shabbat 119b) that on Shabbat each person has two angels, a good angel and a bad angel. Unlike the angel and devil that sit upon the shoulders of a cartoon character egging him on, these angels do not interact directly with us. On Shabbat, these angels appear, often following us home from synagogue. When they arrive at our homes, they peer in the windows. If all is well- the family is together, the house set for Shabbat, candles burning- the good angel says, “May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” The bad angel must respond, “Amen.” If the house is messy, the family fighting, the house not set for Shabbat, the bad angel says, “May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” The good angel must respond, “Amen.”
We added this blessing to our Shabbat practice when Gavi was born. Over the years, the children have looked for the angels outside the windows. All who know our children know they are intelligent, active individuals. Shabbat is wonderful and full of verve. Calm it is not. As siblings, Jesse, Gavi, and Keren have always gone into Shabbat in peace, causing Sean to posit that the reason Menashe and Efrayim are chosen for the parents’ blessing is that, in the Torah, they never speak. With this, the kids have decided that after years of wonder, instead of speaking the formula, the angels bring popcorn and settle down to watch. Yet, through it all the kids developed a sincere love of Shabbat and of Judaism, one they will carry with them throughout their lives.

May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” “Amen.”

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