Growing up, there wasn’t much Jewishness in our home. My parents never shied away from being Jewish; we just never did much about it. I don’t really remember ever having Shabbat dinner at home. So, because of that, I never got the Friday night blessing from my father.
“May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine His face on you and be gracious to you.
May God turn His face toward you and grant you peace.”
That’s a small part of a beautiful blessing parents bestow on their children every Friday night.
Fast forward to 1984 and, because of a series of events, there was a knock at the door of my Jewish soul. It was the Aish Hatorah Rabbis: Rabbis Heller, Baars, Braverman, Cohen, their Rebbetzins and so many others slowly and gently leading me out of the dark. One day I didn’t know a single rabbi and the next day I knew ten of them. And even stranger was that almost all of them were younger than me.
Then came the invites. Practically every Friday night and Saturday lunch, some rabbi would ask me to come for a meal. All the rabbis seemed to love me. I grew up feeling hardly anyone liked me and then suddenly rabbis from all over the world were flipping over me.
At the Friday night meals, two things jumped out at me. Singing Eishet Chayil (honoring of the wives) and the Blessing of the Children. Boys and girls both got this blessing. Not just by the Rabbis but by fathers and mothers who put their hands on their children’s heads, closed their eyes and prayed hard for them. Then when the prayer was over, the kids usually got a kiss. Most of the children seemed to appreciate it. Many of the little ones ran fast to their parents to get their blessing. They sensed this was special for them. When I saw the parents bless the kids, two things happened to me. First, I would smile. Then I would feel a tinge of sadness, perhaps because I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids.
Eight years later, I was married by Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, an Orthodox Rabbi in my wife’s hometown of San Antonio. Boom, three boys later, I was now singing and giving out Friday night blessings to all my boys. When I placed my hands on their heads, I could feel the love from my heart and soul pour out through my fingers directly onto them. It really felt like a holy thing to do. Again, though, it was always tinged with some bittersweet and a touch of sadness.
Cut to this year, 37 years after the start of my journey. My wife and I were at our friends Cathy and Lowell’s home for Friday night Shabbat dinner. None of our kids were with us. But at the table were Cathy and Lowell’s three daughters, Rabbi Seidenfeld and his wife, Lolly, and one of their daughters. First Lowell blessed his three daughters. Then Rabbi Seidenfeld went to bless his daughter. She was sitting to my right. While watching Rabbi Seidenfeld bless his daughter, once again, I felt a sense of sadness hovering over me.
When the rabbi was done, I said to him, “Can anyone get that blessing?” He said, “Yeah.” Then he asked me why I was asking. Before I could say anything, God wrote the next line and passed it on to the Rabbi. Rabbi Seidenfeld said to me, “Would you like a blessing?” And in a heartbeat, I nodded yes and bowed my head. He put his hands on my head and I received what was my first ever Friday night blessing. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I had never been blessed.
It felt like my father was in the room guiding him to give me what my father would love to have given me but never knew how. That blessing the Rabbi gave me made up for all the ones I never got during my childhood.
I thanked him and told him I felt like my father gave me the blessing. It felt like my father was in the room guiding him to give me what my father would love to have given me but never knew how. That blessing the Rabbi gave me made up for all the ones I never got during my childhood. And now, when I see people giving their kids this blessing, I feel happy for everyone.
Thank you, Rabbi Seidenfeld.
Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.