Parashat Vayechi 5779

Cantor Tamara Wolfson – 21 December 2018

For as long as I can remember, Shabbat dinner has been a mainstay of my family life. Every Friday night, my sister and I would sit around our dining room table with our parents and grandparents to recite the blessings over the candles, wine and challah and to enjoy a meal together. It didn’t matter what else we had going on that evening or that weekend: Shabbat was non-negotiable. Our friends knew that, and would often come join us for dinner before we’d run off to our post-Shabbat plans. Even in my antsy teenage years when I could hardly wait to get out of the house, I truly loved Shabbat and the family time it afforded me.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I became aware of the tradition of parents blessing their children on Shabbat. At first, I joked with my parents that they had been depriving me of years’ worth of blessings and that I should start keeping a backlog. But when I started to study this practice more closely, I fell in love with it and decided that when (God willing) one day I have children of my own, I wanted to take this practice seriously and bless them every Friday night around the Shabbat dinner table.

The tradition of blessing one’s children around the Shabbat table is derived from this week’s Torah portion in which Jacob gathers his family around his deathbed so he can bless them. Joseph presents his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, in front of his father Jacob so they might receive his blessing. Jacob proclaims that they shall be blessings — examples to future generations of how to act justly and righteously in the face of challenge. So to this day when parents bless their sons around the Shabbat table, we ask God to make our sons “like Ephraim and Manasseh”. Similarly, we look to two of our most well-known matriarchs, Rachel and Leah, when we bless our daughters to be like them: kind, selfless, generous, and strong.

In my own practice, though, I intend to choose from a multitude of role models and names when I bless my children. I don’t just want my children to be like Ephraim and Manasseh or like Rachel and Leah. I want them to have Abraham’s courteousness and faith, and Sarah’s laughter and resilience. I want them to have Esther’s fearlessness and Noah’s righteousness. I want them to have Koufax’s boldness and Ben-Gurion’s vision. I want them to glean inspiration from the countless examples of people who have brought meaning and justice to our world. And one day when they bless their children, I want them to see the world as their Torah: chock full of examples of people who radiate blessing.

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