Vort from the Rav: Vayigash

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Gen 46:29

וַיִּפֹּל עַל־צַוָּארָיו וַיֵּבְךְּ
and he wept on his neck.

The Midrash relates that while Joseph kissed Jacob, Jacob did not reciprocate; instead, he recited the Shema. If Jacob had kissed Joseph, Joseph might have misconstrued his intention. During the anointing of Saul as king of Israel, Samuel first poured the oil on Saul’s head and then kissed him (1 Sam 10:1). Samuel’s kiss was part of the anointing ritual. Jacob did not want Joseph to believe mistakenly that kingship was being conferred upon him through this kiss. Kingship was reserved for Judah. (Yemei Zikaron, p. 69)

Religious idealism can be lost either under extreme duress, or conversely, through unbridled joy. Rabbi Akiva recited the Shema while undergoing torture, his body raked with combs of iron. Jacob recited the Shema at one of the happiest moments of his life: the instant he encountered Joseph. In both occurrences, God’s Name was sanctified. (Moriah, 1977)

The only absolute love permissible is our love for God. When Jacob finally saw Joseph after so many years, he felt an overwhelming love for his son. He was concerned that this love was so overpowering that it might not be subsumed under his love for God. He therefore recited the Shema, affirming, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart. (Divrei Harav, p. 89)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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