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December 17, 1993 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-12-17

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n this week's sedrah we
again read the dramatic sto-
ry of the reunion of Jacob
and Joseph in Egypt. We
read of the son who kept the im-
age of his father alive for so
many years and of the father
who had given up on life be-
cause he thought that this, his
favorite son, had been killed
years before. One would expect
this reunion to be filled with
pathos and pent up emotions.
Indeed, Joseph reacted with
strong and emotional feelings.
"And he (Joseph) fell on his (Ja-
cob's) neck and wept on his neck
a long time." (Genesis 46:29).
But what of Jacob, the aged
father? No embracing, no emo-
tions, no tears, no feeling? No,
our rabbis tell us. In a cryptic
comment quoted by Rashi, they
tell us: "Jacob neither embraced
nor kissed Joseph, for he was
occupied with reading of the
Sh'ma!" (See Rashi on Genesis
How terribly strange and
anti-climactic. One is even
tempted to say how cruel! Here
in the flesh is his beloved son,
whom he had given up for dead
decades ago, the son for whom
he had woven the beautiful coat
of many colors, the son who had
visited him in his thoughts for
years and years and whose ter-
rible murder he had relived so
many painful times; and here
he is now, alive and well and
the second in command to
Pharaoh — and when Joseph
runs toward him and warmly
embraces him, Jacob turns
aside and recites the Sh'ma.
Where was the ecstatic joy
and sweeping happiness of a
grateful father? Did our rabbis
mean to say that a normal
parental response was not in or-
der? Were they out to impose
an inhumanly rigid discipline
on our emotions? And why the
Sh'ma at this particular time?
The best way to understand
this enigmatic rabbinic com-
ment is through an under-
standing of what fatherhood
represents and also what the
Sh'ma symbolizes in our Jew-
ish tradition.
Sh'ma is our most profound
expression of the unity of God.
It is the cornerstone of our faith
for it establishes the Malchut
Shamayim, the domination of
God over the world. It is a com-
mitment which affirms the cen-
trality of Godliness in our
personal lives and in the life of
Morton Yolkut is rabbi of Congre-
gation B'nai David.

our community.
What is the meaning of fa-
therhood in the Jewish tradi-
tion? Fatherhood is not merely
a physical guardianship; it is
a spiritual obligation to endow
our children with a sense of
meaning, purpose and commit-
ment that emanates out of a
God-centered lifestyle. Father-
hood in the Jewish Weltan-
schauung is not realized by
being a "pal" to the child or even
in providing the child with life's
material needs and luxuries. It
is expressed by inculcating the
child with a sense of spiritual-
ity, a sense of living life with a
transcendent purpose. The suc-
cessful father, Jewishly speak-
ing, is one who has inspired his
child to cherish Torah and tra-
dition regardless of the chal-
lenges and vicissitudes of life.
When Jacob was reunited
with his beloved son, he was not

Shabbat Vayigash:
Genesis 44:18-
Ezekiel 37:15-28.

only happy, but also concerned.
Jacob feared that Joseph in his
climb to the top of the Egyptian
ladder of success might have
abandoned the most funda-
mental teaching of Judaism.
Now that Joseph was a mover
and a shaker, the chief eco-
nomic czar and in charge of a
mighty empire, perhaps he had
forsaken the faith of his fathers.
Jacob's question was: Could his
son still recite the Sh'ma? Could
he yet affirm the tradition and
ideals of his youth? If he could,
it would mean that he had not
lost a son, either physically or
Therefore, when Jacob and
Joseph are finally reunited,
Joseph fell on his father's neck
and kissed him. Jacob, howev-
er, said the Sh'ma; this was his
way of making the physical re-
union with his son a spiritual
experience as well. In this way
he could dramatize his fears
and underscore his expecta-
tions. Jacob's response indicates
what he expected of his Jewish
son and thereby exemplified
what it means to be a Jewish fa-
ther. ❑


Visit the sick, for sympathy
lightens pain . . . but fatigue
him not by staying too long.

—Eliezer Ben-Isaac

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