Blessing the children

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review / Sept. 17, 1999 / 7 Tishrei, 5760

Blessing the children

By Rabbi Rabbi Berel Wein -- ONE OF THE HOLIDAY CUSTOMS of Jewish life throughout the centuries is the blessing of one's children or grandchildren before the holy day of Yom Kippur. This blessing differs from the one that many Jewish families bestow on their children every Sabbath night before the recitation of kiddush. The Sabbath blessing is general in nature - "may you be as Ephraim and Menashe" or "as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah." There are no specifics to those blessings, inspired as they may be. However, the blessing bestowed before Yom Kippur is quite specific. And like all truly meaningful blessings it challenges and demands and not only bestows and grants.

Econophone The blessing before Yom Kippur contains, among others, the following phrases: "May your eyes always look at matters correctly... may your mouth speak in wisdom... may your heart resound with reverence... may you be blessed with righteous children... may your livelihood be derived honestly and serenely... may you be spared having to come on to the aid of other humans... and may you be inscribed in the book of good and long life with all of the other righteous people of Israel. Amen."

Now, that is a blessing! Imagine being able to see all of the events of our daily personal and national life clearly, in perspective, and keenly. What a society we would have if people would speak in wisdom and not in foolishness, slander, banality and obscenity.

A country with a sense of reverence for tradition, life, the environment and our history, would automatically be a more peaceful and harmonious society. Should we not attempt to raise our children to be good, kind, compassionate, righteous people? And how about achieving our livelihood honestly and serenely, without corruption and extortion, unfair strikes and cruel "downsizing?" How would our society look if people were more self-reliant and not dependent on government, in-laws, loan societies and outright begging? If some or all of these blessings would actually come to pass then we would truly feel that we were inscribed in the book of life and blessings.

Leiters Sukkah

At the Sharm signing ceremony (the Wye II agreement) all of the parties involved spoke about their hopes for the children of the region. But all of these wonderful sounding platitudes are of no value whatsoever if those children do not receive the proper blessings, education and direction to make a peaceful society and region possible. Teaching children that it is somehow noble and religious to be a suicide bomber is hardly a blessing. And teaching children that their ancestors somehow had it all wrong and that Jewish history should be rewritten to make it more cutting-edge currently politically correct is also far from being a positive act of instruction and good wishes. Realistic and truthful perspective, words of wisdom and not necessarily of ideology, a feeling of reverence and spirituality, the goal of being a good and righteous person, shunning corruption and dishonesty, earning one's way in the world industriously and happily - these are the true blessings and goals that our homes and educational systems should express to our children.

Parents and teachers should operate under the following scenario: "We have the ability to give to our children/students only a precious few blessings. Which blessings do we wish to bestow upon them? Unlimited wealth and greed? Educational degrees that breed arrogance and denigration of those less fortunate? Trips to Nepal or New Zealand or Antarctica? Fads and drugs and sexual promiscuity and experimentation, tobacco and alcohol abuse, outlandish clothing and boorish behavior? Or should we bless them with the ability to build a strong marriage and a warm and supportive home and family? To have a successful career or profession without crushing others who seemingly stand in the way? To view life with faith and reverence, not to mock others or blame entire groups of people for the aberrant behavior of the very few?"

Choose your blessings carefully. The toy that you liked so much that you lovingly bought to give to your child may have loose and dangerous parts in it that can injure your child. All of the commissions in the world will not reduce violence in our society if children are not made aware from their earliest youth that violence is unacceptable.

Of course, preaching this to children demands parallel practice by parents and teachers. Reverence is not taught in books. It is a product of role models and attitudes. Respect is taught by giving respect to the child and student. An education that glorifies poverty as somehow being the acceptable way of life is not a blessing. Teaching children that everything in life will somehow be provided to them by others is a cruel hoax and far from being a favorable blessing. But giving them a sense of tradition and history, a faith that will enable them to transcend the unavoidable defeats and tragedies of life is an enormous blessing.

The much reviled and currently unappreciated "old Jew" knew this and transmitted this message throughout the centuries to its children every Erev Yom Kippur. The "new Jew", burdened with all of the secular humanism baggage of the past two centuries, has discarded all of the old blessings in favor of new ones. All of history and our inner good sense warns us that these new blessings will not weather well in the exposure of infinite time.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by by clicking here or calling 800-499-WEIN (9346).


09/10/99: A good year

©1999, Rabbi Berel Wein