Birkat HaBanim (Blessing the Children)
The custom of blessing the children goes back to the patriarch Jacob and the blessing that he gave to Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Joseph brought his sons to his father’s death bed. When Jacob realized that these were the children of his son whom he had thought he had lost, he instructed Joseph to bring them forward so that he might bless them. Through his blessing, he actually bequeathed upon the two boys equal status with their uncles so that the descendants of Ephraim and Menashe each received a separate portion in the land of Israel. Significant to the Blessing of the Children, however, is what Jacob said in Genesis 48:20: “And he blessed them that day, saying: “By you shall Israel bless, saying: ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.’” Since that day, the children of Israel have blessed their sons with these exact same words: “May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.”Because Joseph’s only children, Ephraim and Menashe were boys, the blessings for daughters is slightly different, referring back instead to the four matriarchs of the Jewish people: “May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.”
For both sons and daughters, the parent(s) also recite the blessings by which the Kohanim (priests) used to bless the Jewish people:
Almost universally, it is the custom to put one’s hands on the child’s head as the blessing is recited.
May G-d make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
Yisimeich Eh-lokim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, v’Le’ah
May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Menashe.
Yisimcha Eh-lokim k’Ephraim v’chi’Menashe
May G-d bless you and watch over you.
May G-d shine His face toward you and show you favor.
May G-d be favorably disposed to you and grant you peace.
Yivarechecha A-donai v’yish’m'recha.
Ya’air A-donai panav aylecha vee’chu’neh’ka.
Yisa A-donai panav ay’lehcha, v’yah’saym l’cha shalom.