There is a beautiful custom on Friday night for parents or grandparents to bless their children. The act symbolises continuity, but also expresses a love and appreciation of each child in a tangible and moving way. When Jacob blessed his grandchildren, he said:
Israel will bless [their sons] through you, saying: May God make you like Ephraim and like Menasheh (Bereishit 48:20).
The blessing for boys repeats Jacob’s phrase. The blessing for girls invokes the four ancestral mothers of the Jewish people: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. In both cases, this is followed by the priestly blessing.
In The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the beauty of the Sabbath, Senator Joe Lieberman states:- Of all the things that observant Jews do on the Sabbath, which anyone of any faith should do, I would put blessing your family high on the list. It is a moment of connection and love between parent and child. No matter what has happened during the past week, the parent feels blessed to have that child and asks for God’s blessing for that son or daughter. As a parent you know that weeks can go by when you think of your children as less than a blessing and more as a problem to be solved. Any parent knows what I m talking about, no matter what the age of the child. Stopping to bless our children once a week makes us pause to appreciate how blessed we are to have them in the first place and reminds them of the love we feel for them. Our children are truly precious gifts from the Holy One.
How Do I Make the Blessing?
Traditionally the parent stands with their hands on the child’s head whilst reciting the blessing, before kissing their child. Some take the opportunity to whisper a special message of appreciation unique for each child. It is customary to give the blessing to children in age order.
In time, as children get older and may not be at home for Friday night dinner, it is acceptable to give the blessing over the phone prior to the commencement of Shabbat.
Families have different customs relating to when during Friday night they give the blessing. The two most common customs are either just after candle lighting, or just before making Friday night Kiddush. Either one or both parents can bless the children.
The blessing can be said in Hebrew or English.
To sons, say:
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלהיִם כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.
Transliteration: Y’simcha Elohim k’Ephrayim v’chiMnasheh.
Meaning: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.
To daughters, say:
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.
Transliteration:Y’simeich Elohim k’Sara, Rivka, Rachel v’Le’ah
Meaning: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
For both boys and girls, say:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום
Transliteration:Y’varech’chah Adonai v’yishm’recha.
Ya’er Adonai panav eilechah vichuneka.
Yisa Adonai panav eilecha, v’yaseim l’cha shalom.
Meaning: May God bless you and protect you.
May God make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.