So, having become a parent with a child old enough to enjoy the whole Friday night thing (candles, songs, blessings, grape-juice, breaking the bread, dinner, grace after, etc...) I decided to look up the official blessings (we never did it at home for some reason). The blessing for boys is actually very nice. You ask God to make your son like Ephraim and Menashe. In the Bible, these two sons of Joseph were blessed by their gandfather, Jacob, before he died and before he blessed his own sons. The reason they were favoured in this way was that they are the first set of brothers mentioned where there is no sibling rivalry. (Think about it - Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau). Very nice.
Then we come to the blessing for the girls. May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. The explanations of why, apart from being the founding mothers of Judaism (by dint of being married to the patriarchs) are less than satisfactory and not what I would necessarily wish for my daughter. One (orthodox) website puts it like this:
As matriarchs of the Jewish people Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah each posses qualities that make them worthy role models. According to Jewish tradition they were strong women who kept faith with God during tough times. Between the lot of them, they endured marital troubles, infertility, abduction, envy from other women and the task of raising difficult children. But whatever hardships came their way these women put God and family first, eventually succeeding in building the Jewish people.
If, God forbid, my daughter should have to endure any of the "tough times" mentioned above, I should indeed like her to cope admirably. However, it's not the blessing I choose to give her when I could just as easily ask God to bless her with a much easier life. Another (orthodox) website puts it like this:
Each one lived in recognition that the ultimate in fulfillment is enabling others to realize their potentials as individuals and as members of the Jewish people. The Torah is filled with accounts of these women, recording their insight, their giving nature, and their sensitivity, leadership, and special ability to inspire others. Beyond this, all of the matriarchs were great, righteous women, who hailed from the homes of wicked people ― what we call today " a bad environment."
Seriously? You should grow up to enable others? And what are "wicked people" and "a bad environment"? Could it possibly be people who have different beliefs to one's own? No, no, no, not in my house!
So we'll be sticking with the blessing I used to say to DD when I was pregnant. After lighting the Shabbat candles I would gently rub my bump and say, "God bless you and make you a good big girl."
I got this from my friend who, I noticed, after blessing her own daughter, would whisper something extra in her ear. When I asked what she said, she told me these words and said they were what her own father had said to her every week when she was a child. I liked it so I adopted it myself. Also because my friend is a single mother of a daughter and I look to her as a shining example of how to do it right.
When DD was born I told my friend that I'd adopted her blessing for DD. "Remind me of her birthday?" she asked. I gave the date and my friend said, "Ooh, I've got shivers up my spine. That was my late father's birthday."
There is a connection to Bletchley Park but this post is long enough already. The story is continued in Part 2.