A Torah Minute: Shema & Joie de Vivre

By Rabbi Moshe Katz


For the past few weeks, we have been reading the fascinating story of Yosef and his brothers.

In last week’s portion, the Torah relates the emotional reunion between Yaakov and Yosef.  The implication was that while Yosef embraced Yaakov and cried, Yaakov did not reciprocate.

Rashi comments in the name of Chazal that Yaakov was reciting the Shema.

Commentaries have long been puzzled by the fact that rather than embrace Yosef,

Yaakov chose to recite the Shema at this time.  

Wasn’t this the time to hug his beloved son?  

Rav Shlomo Breur zt”l, suggests that the key lies in the climax of the Shema, “uvchol nafsh’cha, with all your soul”

Our obligation to love Hashem with our very lives.

Too, if called upon, sacrifice our lives to demonstrate our love for Him.

Surely Yaakov recited these words daily.  And of course, he meant it with every fiber of his body.  But there was something lacking.

What decides how meaningful a person’s declaration of “uvchol nafsh’cha” is?

It depends on how excited he is about life.  How precious life is to him. And how much he has to live for and look forward to.

When Yaakov was lead to believe that Yosef was killed, the Torah says that he refused to be comforted.

“For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.” (37:35-36)   

Yaakov was in constant grief and, as a result, the Shechina, Hashem’s presence, which only rests on a person who is joyful, left him.  (Rashi, 45:27)

For twenty-two years Yaakov had lost his simchas hachayim, his joy for life.

And as a result, his Shema was not complete. His willingness to sacrifice his life for Hashem did not reflect the depth of his love for Him.   

But as soon as he heard that Yosef was alive?

His heart burst with joy. He had so much to look forward to.

Life became precious again!  ”There is much joy and gladness for me!” (45:28)

And when he finally saw Yosef, his simcha was beyond description!

What was the first thing he wanted to do?

To really say the Shema for the first time in 22 years!

To declare, at the height of his joy, that there is no limit to his love of Hashem.

That if called upon he would, even then, be willing to give up his precious life for Hashem!

… This is a profound message for us.

What is a prerequisite to a truly meaningful Krias Shema?

Joie de vivre!


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