By Rabbi Aron Tendler
After 22 years of separation, Yakov and Yoseph were reunited. Twenty-two
years of loneliness, suffering, mourning, and loss were wiped away in a single
glorious moment of reunion and rejoicing. The Medresh explains that as Yoseph
embraced his father and dissolved into uncontrolled tears, Yakov recited
Kriyas Shema. Why did Yakov feel it necessary to recite the Shema at the
moment of his greatest joy, rather than embrace his long lost son?
This week's Parsha begins with two instances of Yoseph meeting with Yakov.
In the first instance, Yakov summoned Yoseph and asked him to promise that he
would be buried in Eretz Yisroel. In the second instance, Yoseph was told that
his father was ill and he rushed to his father's bedside. In both instances
Yoseph was not at the side of Yakov, but had to be summoned. Why did he have
to summoned? I would have thought that considering their long separation,
Yoseph would have spent as much time as possible with Yakov?
After Yakov was told that Yoseph was alive, Yakov must have had numerous
unanswered questions. What happened after Yoseph was attacked by the wild
animal? How did Yoseph end up in Egypt? How did he rise to the exalted
position of the most powerful man in Egypt? Why didn't Yoseph contact Yakov
as soon as he was in a position to do so? Why did Yoseph first give his
brothers such a difficult time? Why did Yoseph act out a charade that only
added to Yakov's suffering by imprisoning Shimon and insisting that Binyamin
be brought to Mitzrayim?
The simplest answer would have been the truth. Tell Yakov that Yoseph and
been sold by his brothers into slavery, and that the entire scene had been
orchestrated by G-d in order to fulfill the prophecy of "and they will be
enslaved." Yakov would have then understood that Yoseph had manipulated his
brothers in order to fulfill his dreams and give them the opportunity to do
Teshuva. Yakov would have himself understood and been able to forgive his
sons for their part in selling Yoseph and causing the family so much pain.
Instead, all the brothers were enjoined in an oath of silence, including
Yoseph, Binyamin, Yitzchack, and G-d Himself. No one was allowed to tell
Yakov the truth! So what did Yakov do with all his questions?
At the end of Parshas Vayigash the Torah used an entire Aliya describing
Yoseph's masterful manipulation and reorganization of Egyptian society for the
sake of bringing the Bnai Yisroel into exile and slavery. Most of Parshas
Meeketz was devoted to Yoseph's masterful manipulation of his brothers in
order to effect forgiveness. The commentaries explain that Yoseph was the
visionary and administrator par-excellence! As Pharaoh proclaimed, "No one is
as discerning and wise as you!" His ability to recognize possibilities and
seize opportunities was seemingly second to none.
However, as great as Yoseph was in planning and strategizing, Yakov was even
greater. Yakov had been Yoseph's teacher. At the age of 15 Yakov already
perceived Eisav for who he was and wrestled away from him his claim on the
Jewish people. Yakov was able to survive the constancy of Lavan's 20 years of
evil conspiracies and bring forth a family of unparalleled potential and
greatness. Yakov, as a Navi, was able to perceive the patterns of time, the
expectations of G-d, and the consequent obligations of man. We must therefore
assume that Yakov suspected the truth of the events surrounding Yoseph's
disappearances. In fact, in his final Bracha to Shimon and Levi, Yakov said,
"And at their whim they maimed an ox." Rashi explains this as referring to
their attempt at "disabling Yoseph" by plotting to kill him! Why then didn't
Yakov ever ask Yoseph what had happened?
The reason why Yoseph had to be summoned was because Yoseph and Yakov had an
unspoken understanding that they would stay away from each other. Both
understood that the more time they spent with each other the greater the
possibility of Yakov asking the unasked and Yoseph confirming the unspoken.
Therefore, Yoseph busied himself in the affairs of government while Yakov
directed his attention to setting the foundation for his children's survival
and eventual redemption from Mitzrayim.
At the time of Yakov and Yoseph's reunion, Yoseph reacted emotionally while
Yakov deliberately said Krias Shema. Yoseph's reaction was expected and
understandable. Twenty-two years of loneliness and determination had ended!
Finally, Yoseph was able to let down his guard and permit himself to feel the
enormity of the events that had swept him away from the loving embrace of his
beloved father. Therefore, Yoseph fell upon his father and wept.
On the other hand, Yakov was equally confronted by the enormity of the
reunion. Finally, he could once again gaze upon the face of his beloved
Yoseph and believe in the resurrected destiny of his collective children.
Once again he could feel the pride and joy in having all of his extraordinary
sons gathered around him. It was a moment deserving of emotional expression,
both tears and laughter. However, it was also a time of unanswered questions.
How? When? Why? What happened?
Considering Yakov's unequaled ability at seeing patterns and possibilities,
we can assume that Yakov had already guessed the basic truth of Yoseph's
disappearance. As the quintessential father and teacher, Yakov was more
concerned for the emotional impact that his unasked questions would have on
Yoseph and his other sons, rather than his own curiosity. The very last thing
that Yakov wanted to have happen was for the brothers to retreat into the
distrust and fears that had originally motivated Yoseph's disappearance.
Instead of asking the questions and forcing a confrontation, Yakov saw his
beloved Yoseph and was filled with the joy and exaltation of once again being
whole. At that moment he realized that the past did not make a difference.
He realized that his questions did not need answers. Instead, Yakov accepted
upon himself the obligations associated with a recognizing Hashem's absolute
dominion. To accept Hashem's dominion means to acknowledge G-d's control over
everything that happens. Upon seeing the face of Yoseph, Yakov was able to
accept that all that had transpired was as G-d intended. Therefore, he set
aside his questions and recited Krias Shema.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.