"Look-you can see with your own eyes, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it's my mouth speaking to you! Tell my father how they honor me in Egypt, and all that you have seen; hurry up and bring my father down to here!" [Joseph] then fell weeping upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept with them; only after this could his brothers respond to him."
Meeting people face-to-face, as compared to the many other contemporary ways in which we communicate with friends, family and colleagues (phone, text, email, even Skype), offers an opportunity for a close, intimate and personal connection. In this week's parashah, we find a number of references to face-to-face meetings.
The word "vayigash" means "and he approached," and in this parashah the term refers to Judah approaching his brother Joseph. This is one of the many very difficult and very human interactions depicted in the story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers in Egypt, many years after they had sold him into slavery. A major component in this story is the interaction of the people involved, struggling to connect and be understood; meeting face-to-face, one on one.
This reunion is a scene demanding person to person interaction. Brothers who wronged their own kin are confronted by that kin personally, face-to-face. Joseph needs to see for himself that his brothers have learned from their awful behavior; he needs to see for himself that they have changed. He needs to see not through a messenger or a middleman, but by going directly to the source, approaching the others and being in their space, their lives.
These days, we don't worry too much about technological or spatial limitations keeping us apart (as Joseph might have). In fact, some may argue that it may be quite the opposite-that these advances bring us together. But we find that our ability to travel so freely and our amazing technological advances may ultimately keep us apart in some way.
We are always "on our way" somewhere fast instead of just "being" where we are. Rather than being present and enjoying the moments as they happen, we tweet about them, taking ourselves out of the experience. We have the ability to communicate so quickly and easily that our technology is always grabbing our attention away from those who may be sitting right next to us.
When we have the chance to meet face-to-face, things can be different. There is an honesty and an intimacy to standing in front of someone and engaging in dialogue with him or her. It is the most real and most deeply connected we become in life.
What does all this have to do with parenting? Young children learn primarily through their interactions with people. Human interaction is paramount to human development. Joseph's face-to-face meetings with his brothers in this parashah highlight the importance of real time, up close, person to person interaction. It is a simple reminder that there never has been and (we would argue) never will be a substitute for face-to-face human interaction. As parents, we are often looking for the next technique, toy or method to support our young children's development. We can't forget that the best tool we have at our disposal is simply our "self."
Questions and Ideas for Parents:
- Have you sent or received an email or other form of "written" communication that caused problems because of misinterpretation? How did you resolve that situation?
- Are eyes really the window to the soul? How does this saying affect the interactions you have with your child?
- Have you had any difficult interactions with family members (or non-family members) that were resolved by a face-to-face meeting?
Questions for Children:
- Ask your parents to speak to you without looking at you. Then ask them to say the same thing while they look in your eyes. Did it feel different to you when your parents looked in your eyes and spoke to you? How did it feel when they spoke to you but didn't look at you?
- Can you tell how people feel by looking in their eyes and at their faces?
- Making faces can be fun. Practice making different faces with another person or in the mirror. Can you make happy, sad, serious, silly and angry faces? What other "faces" can you make?
Pages 287-296 in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Revised Edition, by W. Gunther Plaut.