My mom is in town visiting this week, and spending time together now reminds me of that feeling when I saw her for the first time after the pandemic had kept us apart for so long. Of course I missed her hugs, her caring presence, and the face-to-face conversations, but I didn’t realize just how much I missed her until I had to wait the 45 minutes it took Duncan to drive her home from PDX. That wait was excruciating, and that first hug was like something I had never experienced before.
There was a sense of familiarity with the feeling of sending my oldest to Camp Solomon Schechter for six days. I knew what missing a parent felt like, but I had no idea what it felt like to be the parent waiting to be reunited with my child. And similarly, it was the 90-minute drive home, while I waited patiently for her arrival, that was the hardest part of her time away. The human condition is set to miss and yearn for loved ones, and we are acutely aware of this because we feel it so deeply.
This week we read Parshat Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis. The text begins with the request of Jacob to not be buried in Egypt, and continues with Jacob blessing each of his sons in his final hours. This text ends with Joseph making the request of his kin to bury him back in Israel when they finally leave Egypt.
Throughout the last number of Torah portions, we’ve seen the reactions as family members reunite after time apart: Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and then more intimately Jacob and his son Joseph. Each one is described with intense emotion and connection. In the past, I don’t think I truly understood the emotional charge of a long absence of physical presence. It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime since my father and grandparents passed away, and I miss them immensely, but I know they’ll never be back for a hug.
In Parshat Vayechi, as we see Joseph “fling himself upon his father, weep and kiss him” when he dies, we are reminded of the emotional intensity in the space between physical presence and physical separation. The longing I felt in 2020 to hug my family, and the week of longing for my own child, gave me new perspective on how much that closeness really means.