Blessings from Parents

As the bedekin comes to a close, just after the groom sees the bride and puts down her veil, there is a beautiful custom for the parents of bride and groom to bless the couple. Some use the traditional Jewish blessing that many parents give to their children each Friday night after the kiddush. It consists of the biblical priestly blessing that the kohanim, the priestly tribe, bestows upon the Jewish people, as recorded in the Book of Numbers: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look kindly upon you and give you peace.” Or in Hebrew, “Yivarechicha Adonay V'yishmarecha, Yaer Adonay Panav Aylecha V'iyichuneka, Yisa Adonay Panav Aylechcha V'yasem Licha Shalom.”

Some have the custom of the groom also blessing his bride using the words that Rebecca's brother and mother blessed her with just before she left to be married to Isaac: “Our sister, may you become the mother of tens of thousands.”

Some parents put their hands on the head of the bride and groom at the bedekin when they give them this blessing, just as many parents do on Friday night at the Shabbat table. The custom of putting one's hands on another as they are blessed is an old practice, perhaps going back as far as Moses and Joshua. When it was time for Moses to transfer the leadership of the Jewish people to Joshua, who would guide the Jewish people into the Land of Israel, Moses puts his hands on Joshua's head, symbolically transferring the mantle of leadership to him.

This sense of transference and blessing through the placing of hands on someone's head is reflected also in the blessing Jacob gives to his grandchildren before he dies, in the book of Genesis. Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, and transfers the mantle of being a tribe of the Jewish people onto them through the resting of his hands on their heads.

The Torah writes that in the future the Jewish people should bless their children in the same way that Jacob blessed his children and grandchildren, so we not only place hands on their heads as we give them a blessing, but before reciting the priestly blessing parents often recite the following phrase when blessing a son: “God make you as Ephraim and Minashe.” This is a reference to Jacob's blessings to his children as recorded in the Torah, “In you shall Israel bless, saying, God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.” For the bride, as for any daughter on Friday night, the blessing preceding the priestly blessing is, “God make you like Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah,” followed by the priestly blessing.

Of course, the blessing that parents give to their children at the bedekin by no means must be the priestly blessing. It can be fully their own personal words of blessing to their child, or a combination of the two. The blessing that a parent gives a child at the bedekin can be silent, just between them and their child, or between them and the couple, or it can be said out loud for friends and relatives to hear, or a combination of the two. This moment of blessing just before one's child marries is a powerful moment that should be taken advantage of, sharing words of blessing, love, and encouragement for the future.

Weddings are a particularly appropriate time to give blessings. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve are created, the biblical verse states: “And God blessed them and said to them be fruitful and multiply.” According to the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 8:15, God, as it were, acted as the misader kiddushin, the wedding officiate, for Eve and Adam and also was their “parent,” and so it was as part of this original “wedding” that God blessed them.

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