Parenting with the Parsha – Vayechi

In Vayechi, the final parsha of the book of Bereishit, we see Yaakov on his deathbed. He blesses two of his grandsons, embracing them and kissing them. Then he blesses his twelve sons before he passes away aged one hundred and forty-seven years old. Yosef cries, kisses his father, then arranges his burial in Chevron.

Throughout Sefer Bereishit, there have been mentions of kisses. Generally, these are given alongside two types of events, blessings and greetings.

Yaakov kisses Menashe and Ephraim when he blesses them in this week’s parsha and Yitzchak kissed Yaakov when he blessed him. Interestingly enough, neither Eisav nor the twelve tribes received kisses alongside their blessings.

The second type of kissing is generally used as a greeting for family members who meet for the first time or after a long parting. We see this when Yaakov meets Rachel for the first time and then when her brother Lavan welcomes Yaakov. After twenty years of separation Yaakov’s brother Eisav kisses him, so too after a parting of twenty-two years Yosef kisses his brothers when he reveals himself to them. Yosef’s kiss to Yaakov when he dies, whilst not a greeting kiss, is a farewell kiss, a kiss before a long separation.

It is rather curious that the kiss of familial affection is found exclusively with the trickster Lavan. He accuses his son-in-law Yaakov of escaping with his family and not giving him the chance to kiss his grandchildren. Then, when he takes leave from his family we are told that he kisses his children and grandchildren. Perhaps this too is an example of a farewell kiss before he parts from his family.

Some of these kisses are ambiguous in their intention. Our sages question whether Lavan expressed love to his brother Yaakov, or was checking his mouth for wealth. They debate Eisav’s intent when he greets Yaakov, perhaps he actually intended to bite him and harm him. Other instances have clearer positive connotations, such as Yaakov meeting Rachel, the woman he wants to marry.

Physical touch and affection is a way to express love and foster relationships with our children. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, co-author of The Five Love Languages of children, we all show and experience love in the same five ways, or “languages” as he calls it. These are physical touch, gifts, compliments and praises, acts of service, and quality time and attention. Everyone has one primary language and identifying which one is the most important for your child can really strengthen your bond. The primary language can also change at different stages and ages and it is essential that children receive love in all five languages.

“It’s not enough to love your kids,” says Dr. Chapman. “You have to know how to communicate love to a child so that he genuinely feels loved.”

Physical affection is easier when children are younger. It is so easy to kiss babies and toddlers, but he reminds us that children of all ages need touch. Not just kisses, a high five or a pat on the back, an embrace or a shoulder massage work well too.

Take the time to identify your primary love language, as well as that of your partner and of your children. This Friday night when you give your children a blessing, for your sons the very same blessing that Yaakov gave to his grandsons in this Parsha, take an extra moment to focus on your child and to bond with some physical affection too.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Ilana Harris is a teacher, educator, writer and blogger. She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and four kids.
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