In this week’s reading, we study the reunion of Jacob and his son Joseph after 22 years of separation. Joseph, who rose from slavery and imprisonment to become Viceroy to the Pharaoh in Egypt, urged his father to join him, so he could provide for him and the family while the famine still raged in the region.
The Torah reports on this momentous occasion: “Joseph tied his chariot and ascended to Goshen to meet his father. And he appeared before him, and he fell on his neck. (Gen. 46:29)” Note that the verse only mentions Joseph crying and falling on his father’s neck, but it doesn’t record Jacob doing the same to his son. Surely, after so many years of mourning and anguish, Jacob must have been overwhelmed with the happiness and emotion of seeing his son alive and well. Why is this absent from the narrative?
The Medrash tells us that Jacob restrained himself because he was reciting the “Shema” at that moment — “Listen, Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” Of course, this explanation is itself astounding. Why would Jacob, at what was a monumentally emotional, personal time, after decades of missing his favored son, Joseph, set aside his emotions and recite the Shema?
A father once had to discipline his little boy, and the boy began to cry. Strangely, the boy immediately, while still crying, took a prayer book and began to recite Mincha, the afternoon prayer. After the boy finished, his father asked him why he decided to pray at just that moment. “I was already crying, so I thought it would be good to cry while I Daven (pray) too!” This precocious child eventually became the famed Jewish leader and Dean of the Kaminetz Yeshiva, Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l (1870-1939).
Rabbi Leibowitz may have learned this practice from our Patriarch, Jacob. As his heart began to well with emotion, Jacob too felt these precious feelings of longing and happiness should be dedicated to the One Who protected Joseph throughout the 22 years. Ultimately, it was G-d Who orchestrated all the events that made this cherished moment possible, and now was the opportune time to reach out to Him.
As feeling, human beings, we find it more natural to relate to events and encounters that affect us personally. More challenging is to sense emotions like sadness, happiness, and excitement, in our spiritual relationship with G-d. Towards this goal, it helps to channel the emotions we already experience in our lives towards the spiritual. At a celebration of an achievement or a milestone, take a moment to thank G-d at the same time. When mourning a personal loss, reach out to your Heavenly Father and know that He is mourning with you. No one loves you and cares for you more than the Al-mighty Himself, and these are treasured opportunities to feel His tangible embrace.