In this week’s parshah, we read the emotional return of a beloved son to his father’s embrace. After being gone for so many years, Yosef and his father, Yaakov Avinu, met up again when Yaakov was forced into exile because of the punishing hunger in Eretz Yisroel. The son who was sold into slavery and thought to be dead by everyone except Yaakov, had revealed himself to the brothers as the Egyptian viceroy. He sent aggalos, wagons, to his father, telling him to come down to Egypt. Chazal say that the wagons were a hint to Yaakov that all is well with Yosef, for the last sugya they had studied together was eglah arufah. He was hinting to his father that it was possible to learn Torah in golus, even if surrounded by a depraved nation.
When they met, they embraced, Yosef cried, and Yaakov recited Krias Shema. Why did Yaakov recite it? What was the significance of reciting Shema at that moment?
Students of Daf Yomi will recall a Gemara in Maseches Sotah (42a-b). The Mishnah states that the moshuach milchamah, the kohein who leads the nation into war, proclaims to those going to battle, “Shema Yisroel!” and offers words of motivation and inspiration.
The Gemara states that Rabi Yochanan quoted Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai, who said that Hashem told Klal Yisroel that even if their only source of merit is that they recite Krias Shema in the morning and evening, they will not lose to their enemies.
The Gemara also quotes a posuk: “Vayigash haPelishti hashkeim veh’aareiv – [Golyas] the Pelishti approached the Jewish encampment morning and evening.” It then offers the explanation of Rabi Yochanan that Golyas did that to frighten the Jews and cause them to skip Shema in the morning and evening, thereby losing the source of merit that would cause them to be victorious.
Reciting Shema is a tremendous recourse for Am Yisroel. In fact, the very name of Chanukah hints to the power of Shema. The sefer Tzror Hamor (Va’eschanon, page 134) states that Chanukah is an amalgamation of the words chanu chof hey. As a result of the Greeks’ anti-religion edicts, the Chashmonaim were unable to properly study Torah and engage in prayer. However, they were able to defeat their tormenters in the merit of Shema. There are 25 Hebrew letters in the posuk of “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod.” This concept is represented in the word Chanukah; chanu chof hey. They rested after emerging victorious in the merit of their recitation of Shema Yisroel.
The neis of Chanukah is tied to Yaakov. The sefer Tzeidah Laderech relates in the name of the Maharshal that the pach shemen burned miraculously for eight days in the merit of Yaakov returning for the pachim ketanim prior to his battle with the angel of Eisov.
By returning for the small pachim, Yaakov demonstrated his belief in Hashem. He didn’t return for small jugs because he was a miser, but rather because he believed that he had the ability to utilize everything Hashem gave him to bring more kedushah into the world. Therefore, he went back across the river to fetch these vessels with which he could sanctify the name of Hashem. It was an indication of his emunah that he could serve Hashem in any predicament and with whatever he had.
The Chashmonaim followed his example. Although they were in a difficult situation, battling a mighty army of wicked men, their emunah remained rock-solid that they could utilize the strengths Hashem granted them to overcome tough odds. Because their faith was so strong, Hashem caused them to win the battle in the merit of Yaakov Avinu’s emunah, displayed when he returned for the pachim ketanim and was confronted by the malach of Eisov.
Not only was the Chashmonaim’s victory against Yovon rooted in Yaakov Avinu, the pach shemen tahor, which was found and subsequently remained lit for eight days and nights, was also tied to Yaakov’s pachim ketanim.
The Sifsei Kohen written by a talmid of the Arizal writes in his peirush al haTorah that the pach that was found by the Chashmonaim is the same one from which Yaakov Avinu poured oil on to the stone upon which he slept after leaving Yeshivas Sheim V’Eiver.
Yaakov was the av of golus. When he descended to golus, he wanted to show his children how they would last in the exile. He wanted them to watch him as he demonstrated the secret of Jewish power. He recited Shema Yisroel as he lovingly embraced his son. He feared what would happen to his family in this strange land and wanted to provide a source of merit for them. He told them that no matter what befalls them, no matter how difficult their situation is, they should have faith in Hashem and not give up. If they recite Shema and place their faith in Hashem, they will ultimately survive. Hashem won’t let them down.
Shema Yisroel hints to Yaakov, also known as Yisroel. Yosef had been in golus for many years and remained loyal to his father’s teachings. He was able to survive as the only Jew in the country and had clinged to Torah as he married and brought up wonderful children. But Yaakov feared what would become of his family as he prayed that they overcome the temptations. Thus, he recited Shema, as he prepared himself to do battle on behalf of their souls. He implemented the zechus guaranteed to aid him as he fought against the evil influences of Mitzrayim.
Yaakov laid the path for us to succeed in our daily battles against all the temptations golus offers. He taught us how to defeat our enemies and how to survive: with emunah and bitachon, faith and belief in Hashem and His power to control everything that transpires in this world. If we truly have that belief, then we will be spared and will see the good in everything that happens to us.
A paragon of that belief was Yosef. Despite what befell him, being sold by his brothers into slavery and jailed on trumped-up charges, he maintained his faith through it all and thus merited redemption and a rise to power.
In our day, golus has its tentacles in us. Innocent Jews are regularly killed in the Holy Land. The administration in Washington seeks to reduce the Jewish state. Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world.
Prosecutorial misconduct is unleashed on our brothers, sending people like Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin to jail, while powerful people and the justice system at large care not a whit that an innocent good man has been jailed for the past five years. Yet, this man is happy, positive and upbeat, because he clings to Krias Shema, Torah and tefillah. His emunah remains rock-solid, and while he and those who assist him engage in hishtadlus, he knows that Hashem is with him wherever he is. He isn’t broken, he isn’t depressed, and, like Yosef many years ago, he will be freed when Hashem determines that his shlichus ministering to people in that awful place is done.
In our lives, as well, we all face daily trials. Those who recite Shema twice daily have a leg up on those who seek their demise.
As Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz sings on his latest album, “Yomai ovrim yomai kolim… lo ira ra atoh imodi… motzoacha motzu chaim, zorcha chama zorcha nafshi, baTorah hakedoshah ani ameil, zorcha chama zorcha nafshi chayeini Keili ad biyas hagoel… lo lishkoach, tomid lismoach, zechor lodaas es matnosecha.” Though there is enough cause for a person to become disillusioned in this tough world of ours, the one with faith and appreciation of Hashem’s gifts forges ahead happily, for he knows that in the merit of his belief and Torah, he will be blessed.
A 17-year-old bochur at Yeshiva Kol Torah in Yerushalayim was depressed. His mother had died and he wasn’t able to get back to himself. During the day, he spoke of his mother. At night, he would go visit his mother’s grave on Har Hamenuchos. He would ask people if they knew what was happening to his mother in Olam Haba.
The rosh yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, asked that the boy be brought to his home. He sat the boy next to him and held his hand as he told him, “It is true that we cannot understand the ways of Hashem. This is the reason we say, ‘Boruch Dayan Ha’emes,’ when a person passes away. We accept the judgment as correct. We need to bear in mind that the foundation of the world is mercy. Therefore, as we bury the dead, we say, ‘Keil molei rachamim,’ acknowledging the mercy of Hashem.
“Hashem is the Father of all rachamim. He is at the root of all rachamim in the world. Sometimes, it takes time until we perceive the mercy of His actions, but we must know that there is nothing that Hashem does that is bad. Everything that He does is for our benefit.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman concluded, “What are you worried about? Your mother is in a better place than you and me. Her neshomah is very close to Hashem, the Av Harachamim.”
The boy shed copious tears. He then calmed down and said, “Now I understand. I have no reason to be depressed.”
The Baal Shem Tov had a segulah that redeemed people from their tzaros. He would say that when the middas hadin attaches itself to a person, he should find a measure of chesed in the din. Since Hashem is the Av Harachamim, there can be no din without some chesed mixed in. When a person demonstrates his emunah and bitachon and seeks to find the chesed, the din is sweetened and the middah of chesed is allowed a more prominent role.
A son-in-law of the Chofetz Chaim was asked what impressed him most about his holy father-in-law. He responded that the Chofetz Chaim suffered much during his life, yet he was always calm. No one ever saw him agitated or excited or nervous. This was due to his absolute emunah. He knew that everything that happens in this world is ordered from Above. Therefore he had no fear, for he knew he was being carried as an infant in his mother’s arms. Hashem as the Av Harachamn would not permit anything bad to befall him.
Emunah and bitachon are critical for us to succeed in anything we do. Not only does faith help us deal with life and its many challenges, but it also provides solutions.
Shema Yisroel, the proclamation of faith in Hashem, empowers us, providing us with chizuk and zechuyos.
Yaakov arrived in Mitzrayim armed with faith in Torah and a fierce belief that Hashem would protect him and his offspring, as expressed by his proclamation of Shema Yisroel before exchanging niceties and loving words of welcome.
His recitation of Shema was also an expression of appreciation to Hashem, the Echod, who allowed him to reunite with his beloved son, whom he longed to meet while everyone had proclaimed him dead.
In life, we face all types of situations, those in which the good is evident and times when the good is not so evident. In every situation, our response should be to say Shema Yisroel and proclaim our belief in Hashem. When good things happen to us, we don’t say, “Kochi ve’otzem yodi asah li es hachayil hazeh,” but rather acknowledge that Hashem Echod is the Av Harachaman who looks out for us. When other types of things transpire, we don’t bemoan our fate, but rather say Shema Yisroel, proclaiming that we know that everything is from Hashem, the Av Harachaman.
The same people who know that all the good they have is from Hashem also know that the “bad” is from Him as well. They are happy and at ease, just as Yaakov was. Jews gave up their lives al kiddush Hashem while shouting Shema Yisroel. Why is their death a kiddush Hashem? Because at the moment of their death, they proclaimed that all is from Hashem, and if He willed this for them, they accepted it as such. The kedoshei Kelm marched to their deaths singing “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.” They were calm and proud, for they knew that Hashem had decided that they would die. As the shots rang out, they shouted Shema Yisroel, creating a true kiddush Hashem.
May we be blessed to never become depressed by people and events that challenge us. May our faith set us free and keep us happy. May we be blessed to always appreciate Hashem’s gifts. Doing so will help us maintain our equilibrium and earn us zechuyos as we demonstrate that we have learned the lesson taught by our forefather Yaakov Avinu many centuries ago.