Blessing - A Weekly Ritual

by Zehorit Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence

As Friday afternoon arrives every week, the pace in our home slows in preparation for Shabbat. A festive meal has been prepared, the table was set with flowers and candles, the challah bread is warm and fragrant straight from the oven and friends and family members join us for dinner. The weekly ritual is rooted in the Jewish observance of Shabbat, a day meant to be free from labor and hardship, a day resembling the world to come. Friday night is the one evening during the week we all commit to be home for dinner, to participate in the preparation of food, to visit with guests and to assist with cleanup. The hectic weekly schedule winds down and we come together to enjoy our family circle.

The Shabbat evening is grounded in blessings that force us to pause and acknowledge how fortunate we are, reminding us to be present in the moment. We open with the blessing the lighting of the Shabbat candles and follow with a blessing over the wine. The challah is blessed next: all get a taste of the bread and the meal is then served. These are blessings that aim to remind us that though we toil to produce wine and bread, we are not in control of the elements and cooperation from above is required for a successful harvest, producing the food that sustains us.

My favorite blessing, however, is the one recited right after the candles are lit: the blessing over the children. It is an ancient prayer: The Priestly Blessing, harkening back to temple time in Jerusalem where the priests would reach their hands out over the crowd and recite the ancient words.

You may be familiar with “Live long and prosper” - the Vulcan greeting from Star Trek that has become part of the American vernacular. The phrase is accompanied with a hand gesture that has become well known and had has been repeated often. 

Did you know, however, what the origin of the gesture is? Leonard Nemoy, who portrayed Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek show and still does so in the current films, is of Jewish descent. In his search to create a richer Spock character, he reached into his own memories and tradition and adapted the Jewish priestly blessing. In Jewish tradition, still observed in many  synagogues, the Kohanim (descendants from the priestly clan), reach their hands with their fingers spread in the now familiar gesture over the crowd and bless them with the Biblical verses of Numbers 6:24–26.

Over the years, Parents have begun blessing their children every Friday night in a similar fashion, by laying their hands on their kids’ heads and repeating the same verses. For us, it has become a weekly ritual, a reverent moment of connection with our children, a moment that they have come to accept, and actually seek. When they have been away from home for college, or even on a trip, I would call to bless them and often, if I had missed them – they would call asking for their weekly ritual.

So let me leave you with these ancient words and may they grace your week as they have graced my family all these years.

May the LORD bless you and protect you 
May the LORD shine his countenance upon you and be gracious to you 
May the LORD lift up His face to you and grant you peace