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The Power of Shema
In this parashah, we are witnessed to an amazing, miraculous reunion. After 22 long years, during which time our Patriarch Yaakov was led to believe that his beloved son, Yosef, had been killed, the two reunite. Yosef, now viceroy of Egypt, harnesses his chariot and goes forth to greet his beloved father. The Torah tells us, “He (Yosef) appeared before him (his father), fell on his neck, and wept upon his neck excessively.”
Rash, the great comments, points out that while Yosef cried, Yaakov recited the Shema. Why would Yaakov have chosen this moment for the recitation of the Shema, which precluded him from speaking or giving his son a kiss or a hug? Surely, he could have greeted his long-lost son before uttering this prayer.
The Maharal explains that when a righteous person experiences the goodness of Hashem, he seeks to connect with Him, not only to express gratitude, but also so that that goodness might impact on future generations and become an eternal blessing. Thus, when our forefather Yaakov beheld is son in all his grandeur, his first thought was to connect that moment to the glory of Hashem- the establishment of Malchus HaShamayim, the Kingdom of Hashem here on earth, which is symbolized by the recitation of the Shema.
Yosef wept on the neck of his father because the neck is a metaphor for the Holy Temple, since it is the neck that joins the head (the spiritual) to the body (the physical). Yosef foresaw the terrible suffering that would befall the Jewish people with the destruction of the Holy Temples, so he wept on Yaakov’s neck. But Yaakov recited the Shema, for he knew that through the Shema the Jewish people would preserve and triumph.