Maintaining Family Unity
The long hoped for reunion of Yaakov and Yosef actually occurs in this
week’s parsha. The Torah records for us this poignant and emotional moment.
Yet, it tells us that Yaakov remained apparently emotionless while Yosef
wept. The rabbis of the Talmud compound the mysterious behavior of Yaakov by
stating that Yaakov at that moment recited Shema. What does this mean?
Many commentators interpret this to mean that since in all of the years of
Yaakov’s separation from Yosef he was in a depressed mood, the Divine Spirit
could not have rested upon him and he was therefore unable to communicate
with Heaven – the understanding of Shema being that ability to communicate
with Heaven. Now that he saw Yosef in front of his eyes, alive and well, his
joy of the moment allowed that Holy Spirit to descend upon him once again
and that is what meant by his reciting the Shema.
But this does not really explain why Yaakov was apparently emotionless at
that moment. One can recite Shema with great fervor and intensity and still
weep. In fact we find it strange that in the entire parsha Yaakov does not
ask the brothers how Yosef ended up as the ruler of all Egypt and why did he
so torture the brothers on their previous trips to Egypt. One would have
thought that all of these questions would be uppermost in Yaakov’s mind and
therefore should have been posed on his lips as well. The Torah makes no
mention of this. Why?
Well, I am not presumptuous enough to say that I have the answer to these
questions regarding the behavior of our holy father Yaakov. However, there
is an insight here that I do wish to share with you. Yaakov is well aware of
the tensions that existed between Yosef and his brothers. He is also
cognizant that his sons misled him when they showed him Yosef’s bloody
shirt. He is also aware of the dreams of Yosef for he himself harbored them
as well over all of the long painful decades of separation from his beloved son.
And Yaakov, who was able to survive Lavan’s schemes and machinations, is
certainly not naïve. As he will say on his deathbed to Yosef, “I know, my
son, I know.” He meant that I know everything that has transpired in our
family regarding you and your brothers. But Yaakov chooses not to mention it
directly. He does not want to display undue emotion to Yosef or to his
brothers. He contains his tears for his weeping will only rip open a scab on
a wound that has to heal slowly and carefully.
The less said the better is his motto in this instance. Not every family
secret need be publicly revealed nor every family dispute constantly
rehashed. Yaakov says effectively, “I am aware of all that has transpired
between you and your brothers. I prefer to let the matter rest and not
pursue it further.” Reuniting the family is his prime goal.
Tears, emotional outbursts and reproaching them for their past errors, which
the brothers themselves now recognize as being errors, will not realize his
goal of building a united and strong family that will become the Jewish
people. Many times, restraint and even silence are the best tools for family
unity and tranquility.
Rabbi Berel Wein