This week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayigash, describes the emotional reunion of Jacob with his son Joseph. Twenty-two years earlier, Jacob thought that Joseph was devoured by a wild animal, and now he learned that he was alive and well and he was the ruler of the land of Egypt. The verse says (46:29) that Joseph fell on the neck of his father and cried.
Rashi notes the fact the verse only says that Joseph cried and does not mention Jacob’s reaction, which implies that Jacob did not do the same. Rashi quotes from our sages that indeed Jacob was busy doing something else. Jacob was reciting the Shema prayer.
Why out of all times did Jacob find this to be the time to recite Shema? This was the moment Jacob was waiting for. He missed his beloved son for so many years and was so excited to finally see him. Why did Jacob see fit to recite Shema during this momentous occasion?
The Maharal (in Gur Aryeh) offers a fascinating answer. He explains that it is precisely because of the stupendous joy this moment held that Jacob found it appropriate to recite Shema. When Jacob finally saw his son, alive and well, with the prestigious position as the ruler of Egypt, he did not want the surge of excitement he felt to be wasted. He wanted to utilize the emotion by channeling it to loving God and accepting the yoke of serving Him with utmost fervor, which is the theme of Shema. He saw this as an opportunity to use his immense appreciation to recognize the goodness of God and strengthen his bond and commitment to Him. Although this may be a novel concept, one does not have to be on the level of our forefather Jacob to incorporate this idea into practice.
Russy had recently graduated with a degree in speech pathology, and was looking for employment opportunities in the field she had chosen. A position opened up in a special-education program, and she applied for the job. She wasn’t overly optimistic. After all, why would they hire someone fresh out of school for a position in such a program? Nonetheless, she was glad to hear that she was awarded an interview. It was only a short while after she had been laid off from the first job she had in the field, and she went to the interview feeling hesitant about whether this interview would lead anywhere. But much to her delight, the interview passed successfully, and the employer expressed interest in her talents. She left the interview feeling ecstatic and overjoyed about feeling valued. But she did not allow herself to merely enjoy the happy feelings. She directed her gratitude to Heaven, and immediately began reciting chapter 148 of Psalms (which is about the whole universe praising God) in appreciation.
There is so much to gain from the joyous occasions we experience in life. Any time we experience an exhilarating emotion, we have a tremendous opportunity to utilize it to grow in bringing ourselves closer to God. When we feel especially happy, and we think about the fact that this happiness has been arranged by God, we can channel this special feeling into intensifying our connection with God and feeling more compelled to improve our service of God.
When you get excited over a new item you acquired, a promotion, a good deal, or any other occasion which lifts your spirits, don’t just let the experience leave you unaffected. Think about how this is a tremendous gift from God and how out of place it would be to defy His will. Take a moment and think, “Wow! Look what God did for me! How can I act ungratefully and neglect to fulfill my duties to Him properly?” A joyous occasion can be utilized as a springboard to reach ever-higher heights in loving God and in our commitment to fulfilling the will of God. How can we pass up such a golden opportunity by just letting these powerful emotions go to waste?
Parshas Vayigash by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)