(Torah Portion Vayigash) No Welcome or Goodbye!
Last week, I woke up to a flashing message on my phone, which had been left at 2 o’clock in the morning. It was from a nurse at one of the local hospitals with a request from a patient that a rabbi visit her before she goes into surgery.
I entered the hospital room and realized that the middle-aged patient had certain disabilities, yet was able to communicate. I asked her if she knew her Hebrew name and she said that she did, but she added that, “It’s been many many years since I had communication with my family.” I asked her if she wished to pray and she said, “of course.” I recited the declaration of Shema Yisroel, and she immediately responded. Although she had been for many years separated from her family and anything Jewish, she still recalled the Shema Yisroel.
The fact is that the Shema declaration of G-d’s Omnipotence is very much ingrained in all of us.
In this week’s Parsha the Torah describes that after 22 years of absence Yosef was reunited with his brothers and with his father Yaacov.
In describing their reunion, the Torah tells us that Yosef emotionally fell on his father’s neck and began to cry. Surprisingly the Torah does not depict Yaacov’s reaction.
Our sages explain that Yaacov dedicated this emotional and joyful time to G-d by declaring G-d’s unity and his love for Him with the recitation of the Shema.
Commentators explain that Yaacov, who was old at the time, was afraid that this reunion would be so emotionally powerful that he might die from excitement so he declared the Shema Yisroel, which is recited when one is in the throes of death.
Another explanation is that Yaacov specifically chose to dedicate this emotional moment to G-d, to communicate and instill within Yosef to remain faithful and devotedly righteous to G-d throughout his life, especially after Yaacov would pass away.
The Skolya Rebbe explains Yaacov’s thinking with the following story: During the war a father was in hiding with his young son. Realizing that the child could not endure the pain and suffering if they would be caught, the father arranged to transport his son to a different country where he would be placed in the home of gentiles.
At the train station, his father began to pray the afternoon prayers and while he was in the middle of his prayers, the last call was announced for the train’s departure. The son was in a quandary; should he wait until his father concluded his prayer and miss the train or should he get on the train. He decided to board the train.
What was the father thinking when he began praying so close to the train’s departure? His philosophy was as follows: Here I am facing the almost certain prospect that I will be captured and murdered by the wicked enemy and my son will survive and be raised in a non-Jewish environment. If I hug and kiss him goodbye, that would bring closure to our parting and he will turn over a new leaf in life adapting to the culture that he is surrounded by and will in all probability lose his Jewish identity.
However, if I keep our parting ways without closure, chances are much higher that he will always recall that moment with longing and it would be the impetus to keep him connected to his familial roots all his life.
Similarly, Yaacov chose to recite the Shema at this critical moment so that after Yaacov passed on, Yosef would always reflect on that special moment and pine for it and never forget the message of his father’s Shema. Thus, in his position of power as viceroy of Egypt, he would keep G-d and His instruction first and foremost.
In truth, Yaacov employed this strategy with Yosef even in his youth. The Torah relates that Yaacov took a special interest in Yosef, which of course was a point of contention to Yaacov’s other children.
Yaacov did this because he sensed that Yosef would undergo physical and spiritual challenges that his other brothers would not have to endure. These teachings and special attention that Yaacov gave Yosef helped him make the right decision at the critical times when he was being lured into sin.
When Yosef left his father by honoring his wish that he check up on his brothers, they were both engaged in discussing a particular law of the Torah. Twenty-two years later, when Yaacov was informed that Yosef was alive and was viceroy over Egypt, Yaacov’s holy spirit did not return until he noticed that Yosef had sent something to indicate that he recalled the last law of the Torah they had learned together.
During the week, a man traveling through Scranton stopped to Daven in Shul. I struck up a conversation with him and after hearing my name he asked if I was related to Rabbi Boruch Saks. I told him that he is my father. He smiled and told me he had my father as a Rebbi in seventh grade in RJJ and immediately told me the tractate of Talmud they had studied. This was over fifty years ago.
Yaacov gave us the message that Torah and our tradition is what truly connects us and they are the energy and power that keeps us on track and gives us the stamina to succeed and prevail!
Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks