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Friday - Shabbat, December 10 - 11  - Parshat VaYigash 

Torah Reading:Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 - 47:27)
Candle Lighting  4:10 PM
Shabbat ends 5:14 PM

Back On Track

Perhaps one of the most poignant stories in the Torah is Jacob's reunion with his son Joseph after twenty-two years of separation. Yet while Joseph is overcome with emotion and falls on his father's neck and weeps, Jacob remains passive.

Rashi explains that at that time Jacob read the Shema, the declaration of G‑d's unity!

Commentators point out how odd it was that of all times to recite the Shema, Jacob chose these first emotion laden moments to seemingly ignore his son Joseph. Couldn't he have waited a few more minutes to recite the Shema?

One explanation that has been offered is based on the fact that Jacob’s emotions were so intense at the time of meeting Joseph, he was concerned that he couldn't physically endure the surge of positive energy he was going to experience. Thus, Jacob had to distract himself by focusing on the Shema.

But the question still remains, if Jacob had to distract himself why did he choose the Shema specifically?

One approach to this issue is that the Shema was really a diversion to help him cope with the overwhelming emotions that were welling up in his heart. The Shema was actually Jacob’s response to the entire ordeal and saga of Joseph's separation from him. Jacob’s reading of the Shema was the most dramatic expression of his relief and joy and encapsulated all of what he felt at that time.

To explain: Jacob knew that he was chosen by G‑d to carry on the legacy of Abraham and Isaac to introduce the Shema—the idea and ideal of monotheism—to the world.

Before Abraham's arrival on the world's scene, there was no sense of unity and purpose in the world. All one could hear were the cacophonous sounds of pagan deities; each vying for supremacy. Every vice was justified because one could always find a pagan g-d that personified that vice. Religion was no more than the projection of one's own desires and passions onto a deity. The world was on a collision course that would have resulted in its destruction.

And it was into this scene Abraham was thrust. Abraham arrived to teach the world that there is only one G‑d in whose image we were all created. And no matter how different we appear we are all obligated to emulate that one G‑d, and incorporate that Divine unity into our lives. Of all the great contributions that were made from the invention of fire and the wheel to rocket science and computer technology, the unity of G‑d was arguably the most significant contribution, without which all the others have little value. No human being has singularly changed the world for the good as did our father Abraham.

But even Abraham could not guarantee that his contribution of unity would continue after his passing. Of his eight sons, only one—Isaac—followed in his footsteps and continued Abraham's tradition of promoting the unity of G‑d and His insistence of living a moral and ethical life to the world. And of Isaac's two sons—Jacob and Esau—only Jacob chose to carry the torch of ethical monotheism to the rest of society.

Jacob, however, was told that his ability to succeed in making the legacy of Abraham a permanent fixture and not just a fleeting fad hinged on the integrity of his twelve sons. If even one child would falter and no longer be a part of his circle, whether it was due to their physical demise or their spiritual degeneration, Jacob would know that his role as the progenitor of the Abrahamic ideal had come to end. Of all his children, Jacob placed even greater trust in Joseph. Joseph was to become the leader of his twelve sons who would transform a small family into a movement that would prepare the world for its recognition of G‑d's unity and all that which G‑d's unity entails.   

Indeed, the Midrash tells us that Jacob's grief for what he thought was the death of Joseph was not just the natural feeling of a bereaved father. His pain and anguish was also compounded by the perception that Joseph's demise was a sign of his own personal failure. G‑d's plan for the world that was passed on to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was going to die with him. His loss of Joseph—his liaison to the rest of the world—constituted the end of his world. It was a singular tragedy for him for which there was no consolation.

In Jacob's mind, the physical or spiritual loss of Joseph, G‑d's unity—the ideal expressed in the Shema—would become an anachronism and relegated to the ash heap of history.

Thus when Jacob is reunited with Joseph and sees how he had preserved his identity and role and was the same Joseph in whom he had invested so much, Jacob's reaction was to proclaim: "Here O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d the L-rd is one." This ideal for which I gave my entire life is alive and well. These words encompassed his love for and special relationship with Joseph. In effect Jacob was proclaiming, “I have not lost you and all that which your loss would have entailed.”

We are presently living in an era that the prophets referred to as the "end of days." This means that the process that began with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons, under the supervision of Joseph, is coming to an end. The term "end" is meant as the end of one era and the beginning of a new era. We are now on the threshold of the Messianic Age when the whole world will recognize the unity of G‑d; when not only Jacob, but all of his twelve sons, the entire Jewish people and indeed the entire world will proclaim the Shema in thought, speech and action.    

Moshiach Matters 

The prophets comprehended G‑d on such a deep level, they experienced an immense joy from being close to Him. When Moshiach comes, we will all attain that great level of prophecy and experience that great level of spiritual bliss. (Derech Mitzvosecha, Ha’manas Elokus)
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