When I was a child, there was one tradition that was urgently important to me. On the evening of Kol Nidre, just before the beginning of Yom Kippur, my father would gather each of his children, put his hands on our heads one by one, and say the priestly benediction:
May God bless you and guard you;
May God show you favor and be gracious to you;
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
Whenever my father did this, I felt not only blessed but especially loved. His hands were gently placed, his voice barely above a whisper. It is a tradition I followed with my own children. If we can’t be physically in the same place, we speak on the telephone on the day of Kol Nidre; I ask them to close their eyes and imagine my hands on their heads, and then I bless them as my father blessed me. Even as adults, I offer this blessing and while doing so, I feel my father’s hands on my own head once more.
This blessing links our generations for 3000 years. In this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 6:22-26), the first High Priest Aaron, first spoke these words. From the language we understand that the priest – or our parents – are not blessing us but rather asking God to bless us.
I don’t know why my father only said these words on Erev Yom Kippur. In traditional homes, which ours certainly was, the blessing is recited every Friday night, right after candlelighting. It is not just a blessing to bestow on our children. These beautiful words can be offered to all of our loved ones, asking the Holy One of blessings to find favor in them and grant them peace. If not all of the words of this blessing, a simple, “God bless you!” will do just fine.
May you have a week of many blessings and a Shabbat of peace. And God bless you.
Rabbi Debbie Israel