Parashat Vayehi: Halakhah

Halakhah הֲלָכָה

When Yaakov is approaching death, he blesses his children and grandchildren. First, Yaakov blesses Yosef, and then he blesses Yosef’s children.

וַיְבָ֨רְכֵ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֮ לֵאמוֹר֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר
יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה
וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה׃
He blessed them on that day, saying, “With you, Yisrael will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Efrayim and like Menasheh,’” and he placed Efrayim before Menasheh.
Commenting on this verse, Rashi says that any time a parent blesses their children, they should bless them with the language of this pasuk.
In many families, parents bless their children every Friday night. This מִנְהָג (minhag, custom) is first recorded by Rabbi Aharon Berakhyah of Modena (Italy, 300 years ago).
The blessing for sons begins יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה (may God make you like Efrayim and Menasheh).
The blessing for daughters begins יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלֹהִים כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה (may God make you like Sarah, Rivkah, Rahel, and Leah).
The blessing for everyone continues with Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing).
יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ׃
יָאֵר ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּךָּ׃
יִשָּׂא ה' פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם׃
May God bless you and protect you. May God shine God’s face on you and favor you. May God raise God’s face toward you and grant you peace.
The Vilna Gaon (Lithuania, 250 years ago) said that a parent should place only one hand on their child’s head during the blessing to be like Yaakov, who used only one hand each to bless Efrayim and Menasheh. Rabbi Yaakov Emden (Germany, 300 years ago), however, argued that parents should use two hands for blessing a child to copy the כֹּהָנִים (Kohanim, priests) in the בֵּית הַמִּקְדָשׁ (Beit Ha-Mikdash, Temple), who would use two hands to bless the people.
  • What does it mean for you to receive a blessing? How does it feel?