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And he (Yosef) appeared to him (Yaakov), fell on his neck and wept on his neck very much. (Bereishis 46:29)
Commenting on this posuk, Rashi notes that Yaakov did not cry when he was reunited with his son because he was busy reciting the shemah.
The commentators are troubled as to why Yaakov decided to busy himself at this particular moment with the recital of the shemah. Certainly he could have done so before or after and thus given his full attention to his son Yosef, the child whom he had not seen for twenty-two years.
In answer to this question Harav Nissan Alpert ztl in his sefer Limudei Nissan offers a novel explanation. Rav Alpert writes that Yaakovs shemah was not the familiar verse Hear Yisroel, Hashem is our Hashem, Hashem is one (Devarim 6:4). Rather, Yaakovs Shemah was the very next verse in our parsha Then Yisroel said to Yosef, I can now die after I have seen your face that you are still alive (Bereishis 46:30). Yaakov was not reciting the exact words of shemah as we know it. Rather, Rashi means that Yaakovs words encapsulated the theme of shemah. Therefore, Yaakov was not ignoring Yosef at the time of their reunion but instead of embracing Yosef with tears, Yaakov embraced Yosef with powerful words which chazal tell us were also an expression of accepting upon oneself the yoke of heaven, which we refer to as shemah.
Let us explain and expand upon Harav Nissan Alpert ztl thesis.
The simple translation of the first verse in shemah, which we are obligated to have in mind upon its recital is, Hashem, who at the present time is only our G-d, will one day be the G-d over the entire world. A simple explanation of this translation is that in the present galas, although there are many non-Jews who do believe in G-d they all still lack a true and profound understanding of Him. The only people who truly relate to Hashem as their G-d are the Jewish people. This is due to the fact that Hashem has given us the Torah through which we are able to relate and connect to Him. The non-Jews who do not have the Torah lack this all-important tool needed to truly connect with Hashem. However, in the end of the days when moshiach will come and it will be revealed to all the special relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, the nations of the world will wish to emulate us in their desire to understand Hashem. We will guide them in their pursuit, and ultimately Hashem will be the G-d over the entire world. Thus, there are two themes in the shemah. The first is the fact that at the present, Hashem is our G-d and second, ultimately Hashem will be the G-d of the entire world.
Yaakov Avinu, the third and chosen of the patriarchs, was as microcosm of the Jewish people. All the events that occurred in his lifetime will occur to the Jewish people as a whole throughout their history. In the beginning of parshas vayigash Yaakov finds himself towards the end of life and still mourning his son Yosef. Yaakov knew that each of his children were irreplaceable. The Jewish people could not survive and accomplish their destiny without the combined unique contributions all of all his children. Yaakov realized that if he would die without seeing all his children alive, that would symbolically mean that the Jewish people would expire in history without completing their destiny, namely, bringing the Divine Presence to the entire world. Thus, Yaakov was greatly distressed and was afraid to die without seeing completeness and perfection in all his children and their actions.
In this Parsha, when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers he instructed them to return home and tell his father of all the glory and honor that he received in Egypt. Surely Yosef was not interested that his father Yaakov be aware of his glory for its own sake. Rather, Yosef conveyed to his father that not only did he maintain his personal righteousness but also through his power he had enormous spiritual influence over the gentiles in the land of Egypt. He was able to influence the Egyptians to perform circumcision and take upon themselves other aspects of religious life. When Yaakov heard this his spirits were lifted not just because his son was alive but also because of his sons spiritual impact on the secular world. Yaakov realized that he had indeed lived to see the two aspects of the shemah. The first part of the shemah makes mention that Hashem is the G-d of the Jewish people. This can only be true if the Jewish people are complete. Yaakov was satisfied that all his children, the foundation of the Jewish people were indeed complete, righteous and Hashem was their G-d. The second part of the shemah makes mentions that the Jewish people will ultimately influence the non-Jewish world to accept upon themselves Hashem as their G-d as well. Yaakov was satisfied, for he had seen a token fulfillment in Yosefs role in Egypt. Therefore, Yaakov said, I can die now, after seeing your face. This can be interpreted simply as, now I have comfort that the Jewish people will fulfill their destiny in history, for in my own lifetime I have seen a token fulfillment of this.
Let us note that there is a great difference between the shemah of Yaakov and our shemah. Our version of the shemah begins with the word hear. Yaakov, after hearing that Yosef was alive and being told of his great glory could have been satisfied that the two aspects of the shemah were fulfilled and not have found it necessary to make the difficult trip to Egypt to witness it first hand. However Yaakov was not satisfied with just hearing, he wanted to see. Yaakov said (Bereishis 45:28) It is a great thing that my son is still alive, I shall go down and see him before I die. This moment was the beginning of Yaakovs symbolic shemah. It culminated when Yaakov saw Yosef and declared, I may die now that I have seen your face. We may say that in a symbolic sense Yaakov version of shemah was See Israel, Hashem Who is our G-d is the G-d of the entire world.
In parshas vayechei the posuk tells us that Yaakov wished to reveal to his children the end of days. Suddenly the Divine presence departed from him and he was unable to do so. He asked his children, perhaps there is someone here who is unworthy. His children immediately responded with the recital of the shemah, Hear Yisroel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One. Yaakov was satisfied and replied. Blessed be the Honored Name of His Kingdom forever and ever. We may ask, if Yaakov was satisfied with the response of his children, why did he not reveal to them the end of days? If we look carefully at the words of chazal, we may note that it says, Yaakov wished to reveal the end of days. It does not say that he wished to tell them about the end of days. Revealing goes together with seeing, whereas telling goes together with hearing. Yaakov thought that his children had attained a more advanced level of spiritual perfection where they accepted upon themselves the yoke of heaven as he had done with seeing. If they had indeed attained this superior level of seeing then they would be worthy that the end of days be revealed to them. However, his children responded with, Hear Yisroel. Without realizing, they informed Yaakov that they were on a lower level of only hearing and have not yet merited the level of seeing. The difference between the level of hearing and seeing is expressed by chazal in the well-known dictum one cannot compare [the perception of understanding that lies in] seeing to [the perception of understanding that lies in] hearing. After hearing his children recite the shemah Yaakov was reassured that all his children were indeed righteous but he was still unable to reveal the end of days which depended on their superior level of spirituality, that of seeing.
With this in mind, we may take a fresh homiletic look at some halachos of shemah. In Shulchan Aruch it is recorded that one should recite the shemah in a state of dread and fear. The commentators explain that one should feel that he is prepared to give up his life for the sake of Hashem. The simple source for this are the next words of the shemah you shall love Hashem with all your heart and all your soul. (Devarim 6:5) This is interpreted as meaning that one should be willing to give his soul for Hashem. However, we may suggest that our shemah is really a reenactment of Yaakovs shemah. We try to recreate in our own words the moment when Yaakov was reunited with Yosef after twenty-two years and witnessed first hand the double theme of the shemah and declared, I may die now that I have seen your face.
When reciting the shemah it is our custom that we cover our eyes. The simple reason given by the Shulchan Aruch is in order to remove distractions from our surroundings and attempt to fully concentrate on the words of shemah. However, we may suggest that our shemah of hearing stands in contrast to Yaakovs shemah of seeing. We make this contrast by covering our eyes at the moment we say hear, as a way of conveying that unfortunately we have not yet seen in our history the actual fulfillment of the double theme of shemah as Yaakov had seen the token fulfillment in Yosef.
May we merit witnessing the day when perhaps our version of the shemah will be revised to read, See Yisroel, Hashem who is our G-d, is the G-d of the entire world.