Parshat Vayechi: Parenting Different Personalities

What wisdom does Parshat Vayechi contain on parenting different personalities?

As Yacov’s life draws to an end he gathers his sons together. First, Yacov’s intention is to tell them “what is to befall you in days to come.” After speaking to each individual son the Torah says: “these were his parting words. He blessed them, blessing each one with a parting word appropriate to him.” What was the purpose of Yacov’s final speech?

This question perplexed the biblical interpreters especially since some of Yacov’s words sound unlike brachot. Ibn Ezra argues that these were words of prophecy, not blessings. Yet, the harshest words said to Shimon and Levi seem to be about the past, not the future: “Cursed be their anger. I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” Commentaries understand this as rebuke for their previous willingness to kill Yosef and their violent revenge on the city of Shechem after the taking of Dina. 

A psychologically insightful interpretation is offered by the Or Hachaim who writes that in fact all of these words were blessings. Even the harsh words to Shimon and Levi were given as brachot. By scattering them throughout the tribes and giving Levi the peaceful service in the mikdash, this channeled their anger and aggressive tendencies. In fact, Or Hachaim teaches, Yacov blessed each son appropriately for him. Every soul has its own individual potential and Yacov intended his bracha to maximize the potential and strengths of each child. 

Appropriately, parshat Vayechi is also the source of the custom to bless our children on Friday nights. It reminds us that each child is an individual and we continue to bless them in the hope that they internalize our positive values, maximize their potential and channel their middot for the good. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

*Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Jan Victors

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