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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parshas Vayigash

Jacob goes to meet his long-lost son, Joseph. Their meeting is quite emotional, as we would have expected.

Genesis 46:29

"And he appeared before him, he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time."


And he wept on his neck for along time: Rashi: This means 'profuse weeping' …Here, too, he (Joseph) wept a great deal - more than usual. But Jacob did not fall on Joseph's neck nor did he kiss him. Our Rabbi's said that this was because he was saying the 'Shema'.

Rashi assumes that Joseph is the subject of these verses, since verse 29 names Joseph as the subject. Joseph harnessed his chariot, Joseph appeared to Jacob (and not vice versa), and Joseph wept on Jacob's neck (and not vice versa). Because it does not say "and they wept" (as it says when Jacob greets Esau, see Genesis 33:4). Also supporting this is the fact that the next verse (46:30) begins with "And Israel said…" implying that until now Joseph, not Israel, was the subject. (The Ramban learns otherwise.)


Jacob's non-reaction is certainly strange behavior on his part. After mourning his beloved son for 22 years, thinking he was dead, he now sees him, alive and well and the master of all Egypt. And instead of breaking out in joyous tears he finds no better time to say his Shema. He had the whole journey from Canaan to Egypt to say the Shema. Why now, of all times, must he say it?

Can you explain this?


An Answer: The Shema tells us that one must serve Hashem with "all one's heart, soul and might." This is interpreted to mean that one must reserve one's greatest emotions exclusively for Hashem. Thus when Jacob experienced undoubtedly one of the most emotional moments in his emotionally-packed life, he felt it most appropriate to turn to Hashem and direct that emotion toward G-d. Saying the Shema reminded him that his joy was a gift from Hashem therefore it should be directed to Him. So it was neither coincidence nor bad timing that Jacob recited the Shema precisely at that moment when his joy was at its peak. This is what Rashi is referring to.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is in the process of preparing the fourth hard copy volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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