A few days ago I was obsessively looking up musical lyrics on the internet. One of them was the Sabbath blessing song from Fiddler on the Roof, which is a long-time favourite in the Riley house. I’ve always thought the Sabbath meal scene in this classic movie musical, which chronicles the lives and struggles of Russian Jewish peasant families in the early twentieth century, is among the most moving ever brought to screen.
Here are the words of the blessing/prayer which the father and mother sing to their five young daughters in the movie:
‘May the Lord protect and defend you,
May He always shield you from shame,
May you come to be in Yisrael a shining name.
May you be like Ruth and like Esther,
May you be deserving of praise,
Strengthen them, O Lord,
And keep them from the strangers’ way.
May God bless you and grant you long life,
May the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayer for you.
May God make you good mothers and wives,
May He send you husbands who will care for you.
May the Lord protect and defend you,
May the Lord preserve you from pain,
Favour them, O Lord, with happiness and peace,
O hear our Sabbath prayer for them.’
Reading this led me to some interesting reflections on the characters’ view of daughterhood, womanhood, and success. Although I know that these lyrics were written by a Hollywood screenwriter of the modern feministic age, the words do reflect the view of their daughters families would have had at that time. I’m not primarily referring to Jewish peasant families in Eastern Europe–the rest of the film bears out that two thousand years of rejecting Messiah had warped their thinking on family, as it had warped their thinking on everything else, from the Biblical pattern displayed in the Old and New Testaments to a man-centred view . I’m thinking more of the view that Western culture (after more than fifteen hundred years of the influence of the Gospel) as a whole had on the value of daughters.
The words of this song are right in line with the desires that all Christian families would have had for their daughters. Some of the words echo the portrait of a godly woman in Proverbs 31: ‘Strengthen them, O Lord’–‘Strength and honour are her clothing’; ‘May you be deserving of praise’–‘Let her own works praise her in the gates’.
These words, however, are the ones that stood out to me: ‘May God make you good mothers and wives/ May He send you husbands who will care for you.’ This is what all Christian families (and by extension, all families that were influenced by the predominantly Christian culture of the West at the time) would have wished for all their daughters.
It’s also interesting to notice that this prayer for daughters is used in combination with these words: ‘May you come to be in Yisrael a shining name.’ In the Biblical view, being a good mother and wife is not a demeaning and hidden role, and women who embrace their place in the family are not unimportant to Kingdom business and neglected in Kingdom annals. Often it is those who embrace their role who are most honoured–at least, by the sons of the King. Most of the women who are praised in Scripture are those who were good mothers and wives–Sarah and Abigail and Ruth and Hannah and Elisabeth and Mary of Nazareth and the mother and grandmother of Timothy, among others. Outside of sacred history, we have women such as Monica, the mother of Augustine; Katherine von Bora, the wife of Martin Luther; Sarah Edwards, wife of Great Awakening leader Jonathan Edwards; and a missionary wife of our own time, Elisabeth Elliott.
Even daughters raised in faithful homes sometimes need extra encouragement in their striving to become godly women when all the world is telling them that they are fools. Especially in this age of feminism and egalitarianism, when everything else in the world is telling daughters that the role of ‘good mothers and wives’, rather than being a role ‘deserving of praise’, is unfulfilling and unimportant. If Christian fathers and Christian mothers often prayed such prayers for their daughters, it would be a great blessing and encouragement (and I speak as a daughter).
Anyway. . . Just a few thoughts.
All that from a song in a movie? Don’t get me started on The Sound of Music.