Connecting with Others
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Vayechi, the last Torah portion of the Book of Genesis. As Jacob is close to the end of his life, his son Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob so he can bless them. The Torah says, “Now Israel’s eyes were dim with age; he could not see. So [Joseph] brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them.” (Genesis 48:10).
This verse reminds us of another one describing a similar situation, when Isaac, old and blind, blesses his son Jacob. It is written, “Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come close and kiss me, my son” (Genesis 27:26).
In both verses we can see an elderly and visually impaired father blessing his sons or grandsons. In both situations we see that the father gets closer to his descendants and embraces and/or kisses them.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim Peshischa (1765-1827, one of the key leaders of Hasidic Judaism in Poland) referred to these two verses in a very personal way. He himself became blind during the last years of his life. It is said that when his grandchildren were brought to him before one of his last Yom Kippur, he also hugged and kissed them. He went on to explain that he was inspired in the two verses quoted above. Rabbi Bunim explained that when you want to relate or connect with someone, the sense of sight is usually enough, or at least the best first move. People look at each other and they start “feeling things.” However, when someone who is visually impaired wants to connect with another person, he/she needs other means of connection, like the sense of touch, words, and certainly hugs and kisses, like in the cases of Isaac and Jacob.
I think this is a simple but beautiful double teaching. On the one hand, we need to be more inclusive and facilitate communication for those who have some kind of challenge in life. Each one should be able to connect or relate to other people the best way he/she can.
On the other hand, I think we all should learn how to use our different senses and capabilities to communicate efficiently and wholeheartedly. Even if we have no major physical or psychological challenges in life, we should be able to use our different “tools” for communication that are available to us: seeing, talking, touching, hugging, kissing, and so many more. It feels so good and right when we use them at the appropriate moment!
As we remember Jacob blessing, embracing, and kissing his grandchildren, let us think about those who have different challenges in life. Let us be more inclusive and help them to relate to others and live their life to the fullest. Let us also think about how we can improve our ability to use all the incredible communication tools we have at our disposal and that, for different reasons, we tend to not use them as often as we should.