What is the ultimate parental guide?

Friday, 2 June, 2023 - 1:42 pm

Izzy owned a small pizza shop in Brooklyn. One day, a tax inspector knocked on his door and questioned him about his recent tax return.  Izzy had reported a net profit of $300.000 for the year and he wanted to know all about it.

"It’s like this," said Izzy. "I work like a maniac all year round and all of my family helps me out whenever they can. My deli is closed only five days a year. That’s how I made $300,000."

"It's not your income that bothers us," said the taxman. "It's the business travel deductions of $80,000 that worries us. You entered on the tax return that you and your wife made 28 business trips to Israel, Italy, Switzerland, France, the US, Hawaii, Australia, Alaska, and the Caribbean Islands. What are all these business trips about?"

"Oh," said Izzy, smiling.

"I forgot to tell you that we also deliver!"

If you have ever been to the synagogue during the Kohen Blessing, you know it is a unique moment. The kohen removes his shoes and approaches the podium, his face hidden behind his Talit. He extends his hands towards the congregation, fingers parted, palms stretched outwards. He waits, in anticipation of the holy moment. Those in the congregation hide behind their own Talits to avoid gazing directly upon the kohen, for the divine presence rests upon the kohen during this time.

Prompted by the cantor, the kohen intones the sacred words of the blessing recorded in this week’s portion, Naso, where G-d instructs the priests to bless the Jewish people.

May G-d bless you and watch over you.

כד: יְבָֽרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ 

May G-d shine His face on you and give you grace.

כה: יָאֵ֨ר ה' פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ 

May G-d lift His face toward you and grant you peace.

כו: יִשָּׂ֨א ה' פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם 

One of the most memorable moments of my childhood was each year, moments before Yom Kippur would begin, as the sun would begin to set over the horizon, and we were all rushing off to shul. My late father, dressed in his white Kittel and Talit, would take me to a corner of the house. He would look me in the eyes, place his hands on my head, and in a tear-chocked voice he would confer on me these blessings. I could not always hear his words, but I saw his tears, felt his trimmer, and smelled his love. He would recite the same blessings Jewish parents have been giving their children for the past 3300 years. They are known as The Kohanim blessing, the above priestly blessings, recorded in the weekly portion.

In many Jewish communities, fathers bless their children with these blessings every Friday evening, before the Shabbat meal. It is a special moment in the home, a powerfully moving tradition, and one can see the spark in the child’s eye, as his or her father places his hands on their heads and in a silent tone.

This is among the oldest of all prayer texts. It was used by the priests in the Temple daily. It is said today by the Kohanim every day.

What is the secret behind these blessings?

If we read the text of these blessings, it seems ambiguous.

"May G-d bless you and protect you.

“May G-d shine His face upon you and give you grace.

“May G-d lift up His face toward you and grant you peace.”

Is this biblical poetry, or is there a specific message in each sentence? G-d is mentioned in each of the three verses, but only in the last two do we speak of His face.

Everything you purchase today comes with a manual, so you know how to use it best, and what to avoid most.

There is one exception: Children.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if each child came with an instruction manual—on how to handle his or her moods, struggles, and disposition?

A great Jerusalem Rabbi comes to a town. A Jewish couple comes to see him. "It has been many years since our marriage, and we are not yet blessed with any children. Please pray for us."

"I'm sorry to hear this," says the Rabbi. "Let me write down your name and mother's name on this piece of paper and when I return to Jerusalem, I will place it in the Kotel (Western Wall) for a special blessing."

"Thank you very much, rabbi," they say.

Five years later, the Rabbi returns to the same town. Walking in the street, he meets the woman. "So how are things?" He asks her. "Any good news?"

"Well rabbi, your prayers were answered. That note in the wall worked! We are now blessed with 11 children!"

In five years? Asks the Rabbi.

"Yes," says the woman. "We have one pair of twins and three sets of triplets."

"Mazel tov," says the Rabbi. "That is incredible. Wow.  I would also like to wish your husband Mazel tov and give him a big hug. Where is he?"

"He's currently in Jerusalem, rabbi," replies the wife.

"How nice," says the Rabbi. "So, tell me, what's he doing there? Is he on business?" "No."   So why is he there?  

"He went to the Kotel, to the Wall, to look for the note and take it out..."

When it comes to kids, we got to figure it out all on our own. And usually, by the time we figure it out, it’s too late!

The Torah is the Divine instruction manual for life. It tells us how to navigate all aspects of life. Yet, the most difficult and important task of life is raising children. Is there an instruction manual within it for parenting?

As it turns out, the Torah does grant us such a manual, and it consists of three short verses, comprised of fifteen words. It is the briefest parenting manual to ever have been written, but it contains the seeds of everything you need to know. These are the three verses of the priestly blessings recorded above.

Every single day we must refresh ourselves with the Divine parenting manual conveyed in these blessings, probably the most important manual in the world, for it depends on the future of civilization and the Jewish tomorrow.

This can be gleaned from the intriguing blessing the sages instituted to be recited by the priests before blessing the Jews.

 “Blessed are you Almighty G-d Who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron and commanded us to bless His nation Israel with love.”

This is a strange blessing. Before each mitzvah we recite a blessing in order to be mindful before we perform the mitzvah; yet even though it is important to perform every mitzvah with love, we never mention it in the blessing. We do not say, for example, “to put on Tefilin with love;” “to light Shabbat candles with love;” “to eat matzah with love;” “to affix a mezuzah with love;” etc. Why is this blessing different than all other blessings?

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, explains that there is a deeper meaning to the blessing. Not only should the kohanim recite the priestly blessings with love, but much more than that: G-d commanded us to bless His nation Israel with the gift of love!” Their duty is to give the Jewish people the gift of love.

But why would the Sages surmise that when the blessings don't speak of love? If G-d is our Father, it means that these blessings which He gives us are the paradigmatic blessings each father and mother want to bring to their children’s lives. These Priestly Blessings, then, are a manual of how to love your child and bless his or her life.

It is the ultimate parental guide, the Torah’s guide to parenting.

Step One: Bless and Protect Your Child

May G-d bless you and protect you.

Beracha in Hebrew, or blessing, has two meanings: A) to increase and grow something. B) To actualize and draw forth a preexisting potential.

What is the first function of parenting? To "bless" your child, to seek to multiply his/her strengths, to build them up in all ways—physically, emotionally, socially, academically, and spiritually. It is the fundamental obligation of parenthood: To build up a child's physical strength, by feeding them; to build up their emotional strength by giving them love, resilience, and fortitude; to build up their intellectual strength through education; to build up their moral strength by helping them to discern right from wrong; to build their own power to provide one day for their own families by giving them the tools to succeed.

A parent's duty is also to bless their child in the second meaning of "beracha," to actualize your child’s potential; to draw it forth from a state of potentiality into reality. Every one of our children is full of potential. You want to help your child discover and realize his or her powers, virtues, talents, resources, and gifts, helping them to become a source of light and blessing for themselves and others.

Once upon a time, there were two neighbors living next to each other. One of them was a retired teacher and another was an insurance agent. Both had planted different plants in their garden. The retired teacher was giving a small amount of water to his plants and didn’t always give full attention to them, while the other neighbor interested in technology, had given a lot of water to his plants.

The retired teacher’s plants were simple but looked good. The insurance agent’s plants were much fuller and greener. One day, during the night, there was heavy rain and powerful winds due to a storm. The next morning, both neighbors came out to inspect the damage to their garden. The neighbor who was an insurance agent saw that his plants came off from the roots and were destroyed. But the retired teacher’s plants were not damaged at all and were standing firm.

The insurance agent's neighbor was surprised to see it, he went to the retired teacher and asked, “We both grew the same plants together, I looked after my plants better than you did for yours, and even gave them more water. Still, my plants came off from the roots, while yours didn’t. How is that possible?”

The retired teacher smiled and said, “You gave your plants more attention and water, but because of that they didn’t need to work themselves for it.  You made it easy for them.  While I gave them just an adequate amount of water and let their roots search for more.  And, because of that, their roots went deeper and that made their position stronger.  That is why my plants survived”.

Parents are given the duty to protect their children, to ensure their safety in every possible way, physical, emotional, and moral. The harm that threatens our children can come from many sources, internal and external, and we must safeguard them from both. We are obliged to be the protectors of our children’s well-being.

This is the rationale for discipline. We ought never to discipline children for our sake, so they do not bring us shame, or because we are impulsive or angry. We discipline them for their sake, to protect them from behaviors that will hinder their blessing and growth. A child who is allowed to eat everything will harm himself. A child who has no responsibilities will grow up incapable. A child who has no bedtime, will not be able to function well. A child who is allowed endless hours of screen time will become addicted and it will limit his intellectual and social abilities. A child who never heard the word "no," might grow up spoiled and selfish. If you are a responsible parent, you provide your child with rules, never out of anger, but out of caring and love.

I want to suggest something. If you don't bless your children on the eve of Yom Kippur, on Friday nights, or any other time regularly, consider doing so. Consider using these precious words of Kohanim, the priestly blessings, and bestowing them upon your child. Children love it. They're so delighted to be blessed by their parents.

As your child comes over to you, use those few moments to think about these three kinds of parental love and ask yourself, at this stage in my child's life, which one of those kinds does this child need most? Do they need to be built up? Do they need to be guarded? Maybe they need a smile that says I'm just so delighted by having you in my life. Maybe they need to see more unconditional love, without expectations and strings attached. Or maybe they need peace. Maybe they need me to pick up their chin, to look them in the eye, and to tell them that I can go forward with them in love, even when they've chosen differently than I have?

Shabbat Shalom, 


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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