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Jon Hamm as advertising executive Don Draper in a scene from the fifth season premiere of "Mad Men."Ron Jaffe

What was with that Hebrew prayer on Sunday's episode of Mad Men? A scene where an immigrant father blesses his son in Hebrew had fans puzzling.

Newly hired copywriter Michael Ginsberg goes home to a cramped little apartment where his father sits awaiting his return. He tells the older man he got the job and asks him what he wants to eat, but instead his father suggests they get girls – an old one and a young one. Michael ignores him and starts unpacking groceries. Then, his father puts his hands on his son's shoulders and recites what some viewers quickly identified as the blessing traditionally said over the head of a child as the Sabbath begins Friday night, asking for God's favour and peace.

Many commenters found the scene puzzling or gratuitous, or distasteful because the man suggests sex when the son offers food, but Michael's aggrieved tolerance of the old tradition actually linked tightly to two themes the episode was exploring: parental love and the looming generation gap.

Throughout the episode a ballooning Betty, who is awaiting results from a biopsy on her thyroid, is newly awakened to her love for her children by the prospect of her own death. (In a dream she sees her grieving family sitting around the table dressed in black.)

Meanwhile, Don goes to a Rolling Stones concert where his grey suit clearly says he's "so square you've got corners," as young wife Megan tells him on his way out the door. Chatting to a groupie who is ready to fling herself at the musicians, he is appalled by the girl's naiveté about what Brian Jones might want if she manages to meet him. In previous seasons, Don would have seduced her himself, but now the newly mature ad man would prefer to sit home and brood about Betty's health rather than follow Megan to a party on Fire Island.

The aging Roger is feeling increasingly behind the times – he worried about hiring a Jew but discovered that these days "…everyone has one" – and redundant within his own agency. He asks Don: "When is everything going to get back to normal?" This is 1966. The answer is never.

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