By Five Towns Marriage Initiative
When Yosef first met up with his father Yaakov after 22 years of separation, the pasuk in Vayigash describes how Yosef fell on his shoulder. Rashi says that Yosef fell on Yaakov’s shoulder but Yaakov did not return the gesture because he was in the middle of reciting Shema. The following question automatically surfaces: if it was the time to say Shema and Yaakov therefore had to interrupt the emotional homecoming, why then didn’t Yosef say Shema too? The Sifsei Chachamim explains that because Yosef was involved in doing the mitzvah of honoring his father, he was not obligated in the mitzvah of Shema. Yosef could recite Shema at a later time, but his father was not obligated in any other mitzvah at that moment, which was specifically the first moment possible to say Shema. Therefore he jumped at the opportunity to do the mitzvah since we are taught to have enthusiasm and jump at the first opportunity to do Hashem’s command (as explained in Maseches Kiddushin).
The Maharal of Prague explains the encounter in a different light. He says that the Shema that Yaakov said was in no way due to any obligation. It was not specifically the time when one can first say Shema, and hence there was no reason at all for Yosef to be saying Shema. So why was Yaakov reciting Shema? He was in the midst of experiencing a great joy and salvation, reuniting with Yosef after so many years. He took these feelings and turned them upwards, using the opportunity to connect with his Creator. Hashem had given him this amazing moment, so he chose to use it to show his gratitude for all the good Hashem had bestowed upon him, and he accomplished that by saying Shema.
The Steipler explains how Yaakov’s Shema represented the diametric opposite of the reason we say that, in general, grooms are not obligated in saying Shema because they won’t be able to have the proper intentions. For tzaddikim, it’s the exact opposite; at the time of their greatest joy, that’s when they can have the most kavanah at hand, the strongest focus.
When we have moments of tremendous joy, how do we choose to uplift these moments? Do we even try to uplift them at all? When we know where our joy stems from, and how it is that this happiness came our way, when we recognize that it’s all to Hashem’s credit, then we can know where our expressions of joy should lead us. We should be taking the joyful times as opportunities to appreciate all the good Hashem has done and continues to do for us.
As Chanukah comes to a close, this is a worthwhile point to contemplate. The message of Chanukah is, as we say in al ha’nisim, “l’hodos u’lhallel,” to praise and thank Hashem. We need to take that message with us through the rest of the winter months, taking each time of joy as a chance to thank Hashem for all His good. May we and our families become more thankful people—more thankful to our spouses, more thankful to those around us, and, most importantly, more thankful to our Creator. v
Five Towns Marriage Initiative provides educational programs, workshops, and referrals to top marriage therapists. FTMI will help offset counseling costs when necessary and also runs an anonymous shalombayis hotline for the entire community Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, 10:00–11:00 p.m. For the hotline or for more information, call 516-430-5280 or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org.