“And Yosef bound his chariot, and went up to Goshen to greet Yisrael, his father, and he appeared before him and fell upon his neck, and cried upon his neck even more.” (Breishis 46:29)
“….but Ya’akov did not fall upon the neck of Yosef, nor did he kiss him, and our Rabbis have said that he was reciting the Shema.” (Rashi, ad. loc.)
What a strange coincidence! After anticipating for years the reunion with his son, at the precise moment they meet, it is suddenly the time to recite the Shema? And, if it was time for Shema, why wasn’t Yosef himself likewise obligated?
In our shiur this week, we will explain that there is more than one reason for Krias Shema.
The Mitzva of Krias Shema is referred to as Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim. But, where is there mention of G-d as King, or any allusion to His royal dominion in the Parshios that we recite?
The Torah refers to an earthly king as Echad Ha’Am, the unifying force that ties together his people under one aegis, the power of his command. The beneficent king successfully forges a coherent nation from the sundry and diverse elements that pull in different directions. Under his reign, varied individuals join together in pursuit of a common objective.
Hashem is the King of all kings.
For better and for worse, through sorrow and in pain, man recognizes that every aspect of life is subject to G-d’s word. Each element of existence is merely a part in Heaven’s ultimate plan.
“When they took Rebbe Akiva out to be executed, it was the time for Krias Shema. They were raking his flesh with combs of steel, and he was accepting Ol Malchus Shamayim.”
“His students asked: Rabbeinu, even to this extent?”
“He said to them: all my life I have suffered for this verse – B’Chol Nafshecha – even were He to take your life, wondering, when will I have the opportunity to satisfy this command. Now that it has come to my hand, I shouldn’t fulfill it?”
“He extended the word ‘Echad’, until his soul left him.” (Berachos 61b)
Another strange coincidence.
At the very moment that Rebbe Akiva is to be killed, he suddenly remembers that it is time for Shema?
Rather, the point is this: the life of Rebbe Akiva exemplifies the ideal that energizes his existence – G-d is One. Encompassing all of the world, from the heights of spirituality to the depths of deprivation, every incident in life is subject to His will. All his life Rebbe Akiva has been waiting to express the ultimate statement of faith, G-d is One, no matter what, no matter when.
For this reason, Krias Shema is recited both morning and evening. Upon rising and before retiring, man is cognizant that through darkness and till dawn, we are all subservient to a heavenly realm. This idea gives rise to a third Krias Shema, and upon returning his soul each evening to G-d, the Jew says it once again – Krias Shema Al HaMittah – all of existence is in His Hand.
In times of sorrow and grief man cries bitter tears.
And, at moments of overwhelming bliss man cries tears of joy.
Why does man cry when he is happy?
An example: when a person marries off a child, he is suddenly overcome with emotion, and cannot stop the tears.
When the years of toil and trouble, the anguish mixed with pleasure, the aches and pains invested in the growth of his child suddenly reaches fruition, a wellspring of emotion erupts. Having reached the goal for which he strives, the trials and difficulties encountered upon the way become one small element of a bigger and grander scheme, part and parcel of the ultimate success that has finally been achieved.
It is the suffering itself that is transformed into tears of joy, sanctified and justified in light of the fulfillment of his dream.
After twenty-two long years, Ya’akov Avinu suddenly rediscovers the beloved son who had disappeared without a trace. The years of bitter mourning, the sorrow at the apparent destruction of a nation, all come together as one – Yosef is alive, and he rules over all Mitzrayim.
This is a revelation of supernatural proportion. It is a time for Krias Shema.
One more time, Krias Shema is said at a moment of reunion.
After Yannai HaMelech brutally murders the Sages of Israel, Rebbe Yehoshua ben Perachiah, the repository of Torah in his generation and the Gadol HaDor, escapes with his life to Alexandria, Egypt. When peace returns to the land, and he is called to return, he comes back with honor to the people who anxiously await his arrival.
In his exile, among his students was a man who was destined to overturn the world – ‘Yeshu HaNotzri’ – the one who went astray.
The Talmud (uncensored version) describes a deed that leads Rebbe Yehoshua to recognize his student’s true nature, and Yeshu is excommunicated before the eyes of all Israel. Sent away again and again, he tries once more to seek his Rebbe’s assent:
“One day he (Rebbe Yehoshua ben Perachiah) was reciting Krias Shema when he came before him. He had in mind to accept him, and motioned to him with his hand. He (Yeshu) thought that he was pushing him aside. He went, put up a brick, and worshipped it….” (Sotah 47a)
Here is the parting of the ways.
If Krias Shema is the sign of unity, how can this also be the point of separation, casting aside Yeshu forever?
Krias Shema is true acceptance of the unity of G-d’s world, acknowledgement of the absolute truth that is the signet of His word.
It is this Kabbalas Ol that pushes our enemies away.
When Ya’akov Avinu recites the Shema, unity is reassured among the Jewish people, Yosef and his brothers are joined together once again around their father’s lead. Even as Ya’akov lies near death, he calls his sons to surround his bed, and together they reaffirm once more – Shema Yisrael – we all declare – G-d, our Lord, is One.
Yeshu HaNotzri tries to worm his way back into good grace, and once again it’s time to say Shema, to unite the world in pursuit of Heaven’s word.
In Lashon HaKodesh, the word for unification – L’Tzaref’ – also refers to the forging of pure metal in an iron furnace.
Klal Yisrael is pure and simple, innocent and undefiled.
Sometimes, unity demands that we reject those who don’t belong.
In a world of One, there is no room for an Other.
“Echad Mi Yodea? Echad, Ani Yodea!”
“Echad Elokeinu SheBaShamayim U’Ba’Aretz”
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.