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In the Torah portion of VaYigash we read how Yosef was reunited with his father Yaakov after 22 years of separation. The verse says,[1] “Yosef harnessed his chariot and went to greet his father in Goshen. He appeared to him and he fell on his neck and he continued to cry on his neck. Yaakov said to Yosef, ‘Now I can die since I saw your face – that you are actually alive.”The commentaries point out that the verse does not tell us what Yaakov was doing while Yosef was crying and hugging him. They offer the following explanations:·        

Yaakov bowed and Yosef cried

The Targum Yonatan says that when Yaakov saw Yosef from a distance, he didn’t realize that it was his son and he bowed to him, thinking he was an important Egyptian official. Realizing this, Yosef cried over the fact that his own father had (mistakenly) bowed to him.[2]·        

Yaakov was the one who criedThe Ramban posits that Yaakov was already somewhat blind and that he didn’t immediately recognize Yosef. So it was Yosef who “appeared to [Yaakov],” and “[Yaakov] fell on [Yosef’s] neck and cried…” Since Yaakov was old and hadn’t seen his favorite son in 22 years, he became very emotional while Yosef, who was the ruler of Egypt, was not as emotional.·        

Saying the Shema

Rashi says, quoting our sages, that, at the time Yosef was hugging Yaakov and crying over him, Yaakov was reciting the Shema. 

Why Wasn’t Yosef Reciting the Shema?

Since Yaakov was reading the Shema, it was apparently the time to do so. Yosef, however, was not saying the Shema as he was involved in the mitzvah of honoring his father. This exempted him from the mitzvah of reciting the Shema.[3]

Directing his Love towards G-d[4]

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk explains that it was not the time to read the daily Shema per se. Rather, there was a different reason for Yaakov reading the Shema. At that time Yaakov felt a tremendous feeling of love towards his favorite son whom he had thought dead for so many years. Instead of expressing that love towards his son, he directed it towards G-d. He expressed this love (and gratitude) by saying the Shema and accepting the yoke of Divine kingship. 
The Holy Yid of Peshis’cha adds that it was because Yaakov’s love towards Yosef was a physical (i.e., non-mitzvah) love that he redirected this love towards G-d. Yosef’s love for his father, on the other hand, was a fulfillment of the mitzvah to love and honor one’s father, and so he had no need to redirect that love.

Crying for the Bait HaMikdash

According to the Zohar,[5] Yosef was crying over the (future) destruction of the Bait HaMikdash.[6] The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[7] that one should cry only about a matter over which one has no control. Whereas if one is able to change a situation, one should do so rather than cry. Crying would be analogous to a firefighter who weeps while he watches a building burn down instead of fighting the fire.In this context, since the Bait HaMikdash would be built (and later destroyed) in the section of Binyamin, Yosef was unable to do anything to save it. At the very least, Yosef cried and prayed to avert the destruction. Whereas for Yaakov, patriarch of the Jewish people (including Binyamin), crying was inappropriate. Instead, Yaakov did something to try and prevent that destruction. The Talmud says[8] that whoever recites the Shema, it is as if he is sacrificing a burnt offering (olah). Since the entire purpose of the Bait HaMikdash is to offer sacrifices,[9] Yaakov was trying to counter (and delay) that destruction by saying the Shema.

Reading the Shema Four Times

By Torah law, one need only recite the Shema twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.[10] Nevertheless, according to our Siddurim(prayerbooks), the Shema should be said four times a day. The first time is during the introductory prayers (korbanot) to the morning service. (See below that, usually, there is no need to say all three paragraphs of the Shema at this point.) The second time is during the morning service. The third time is during the evening service, and the fourth time is before going to sleep. From a Kabbalistic point of view, all four readings are essential.[11]

The Mini Shema

The reason we read the Shema in the introductory part of the morning service is that during the fifth century, when the Jewish people were under the rule of the Persian king Yazdegerd II, they were forbidden to publicly declare their belief in one G-d. The Persian king was a believer in the Zoroastrian religion of Dualism i.e., that there are (chas v’shalom) two gods, one good and one evil. As such, he posted guards at the synagogues to make sure the Jewish people would not recite the Shema. To circumvent this, the sages instituted that we read the Shema before the morning service begins.[12]We allude to the religious persecution of that era in the paragraph that follows which finishes with the words “Blessed is he who sanctifies His name in public.”An additional reason to say the Shema at this point is to make sure that we say the Shema on time. The morning Shema must be recited before the end of the third hour of the day. If it happened that one missed saying the morning prayers before the proper time, he has at least recited the Shema in the preliminary prayers. (Some say these prayers at home before going to the synagogue.) 

Having in Mind

The Alter Rebbe recommends[13] that unless one is running late, one should not intend to fulfill his obligation to read the morning Shema when reciting this preliminary Shema as it is best to recite the Shema together with the blessings preceding it and to pray the Amidah immediately afterwards. 

Two or Three Paragraphs

If one expects that he will not reach the Shema of the morning prayers on time, he should read the first two paragraphs of the Shema when reciting the mini Shema in the introductory prayers. Although the recitation of the third paragraph which discusses the exodus from Egypt is also time-sensitive as the mitzvah of remembering the Exodus must also be recited before the end of the third hour, one may fulfill this mitzvah by reciting the verses in the earlier parts of the prayers that discuss the exodus. (For example, the verses at the end of “Hodu.”)[14] One who does not expect to reach even those verses on time should recite all three paragraphs of the Shema in the introductory prayers.[15]

No Eye Closure

According to the Arizal[16] one need not close one’s eyes when reciting the preliminary Shema.

Three Extra Words

If one is running late and is reciting the three paragraphs of the Shema at this point, one should repeat the last three words of the Shema (Hashem Elokaichem Emet) in order to reach the necessary number of 248 words.[17](This is according to Chabad custom. The Ashkenazic custom is to recite the words Kel Melech Ne’eman before beginning the Shema.[18])

With or Without Tefillin?

The Mishnah Berurah writes[19] that one should intend to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Shema with the earlier reading only if he has already put on Tefillin. Otherwise, it is considered that he is giving false testimony about himself when he mentions the mitzvah of Tefillin (in the Shema) which he has not yet fulfilled.[20]

Not the Custom of the Chassidim

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out[21] that although the Rebbe Rashab would wear his Tefillin when reciting the preliminary Shema,[22] this is not the custom of Chassidim at large. He explained that since we will be putting the Tefillin later, it is not considered to be giving false testimony by reciting the Shema without one’s Tefillin. In fact, there is an advantage to fulfilling the mitzvah of reciting the Shema before putting on Tefillin[23] as this will enable a person to perform the mitzvot in an ascending order (ma’alin bakodesh). I.e., first the mitzvah involving speech (reading the Shema) and then the mitzvah involving both speech and action (wearing the Tefillin while reciting the Shema). Although in previous generations the sages were careful not to recite the Shema if they weren’t wearing the Tefillin,[24] this is because they were following the opinion[25] that it’s mandatory to wear the tefillin all the time. As such, whenever one is not wearing them, they are in transgression of that mitzvah. Nowadays, however, we follow the opinion that it is only mandatory to wear the Tefillin once a day[26] (preferably during morning prayers). Therefore, one who is not wearing Tefillin presently but will do so later is not transgressing any law.

May we merit to experience the rebuilding of the Bait HaMikdash speedily in our days!

[1] Gen, 46:29 – 30 [2] According to the Targum Yonatan, Yosef’s life was shortened as a punishment for this. The commentaries explain that Yosef should have sent messengers ahead of himself to inform his father that he was coming. This would have prevented Yaakov from bowing to him.[3] Siftei Chachamim[4] Quoted in Pardes Yosef[5] Vol. 1, end of 211a[6] This is in addition to Yosef crying on Binyamin’s neck for the same reason. See Rashi on Gen. 45:15[7] Likutei Sichot vol. 10, page 148 and on[8] Brachot 14a[9] Rambam, beginning of the Laws of Bait HaBechira[10] Deut. 6:7 and 11:19[11] Siddur Otzar HaTefilot in the name of the Arizal[12] My Prayer by Rabbi Nissan Mindel, pg. 70[13] 46:9[14] Ibid[15] Mishnah Berurah 46:31[16] Pri Etz Chaim, note at the end of Chapter 6, as quoted in Likutei Maharich[17] Sha’arei Halacha UMinhag, vol. 1, pg. 148See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 61:3 that the 248 words of the Shema correspond to the 248 limbs in a man’s body.[18] See Rama, O.C. 61:3[19] 46:33[20] Brachot 14b[21] Sicha of Parshat Shelach, 5712, Se’if 5 and on[22] Reshimot 156, page 11[23] See Ot Cha’im VeShalom 25:6[24] See Hagahot Maimoniyot, end of Chapter 4 of the Laws of Tefillin that many sages would say the first two paragraphs of the evening Shema while wearing their tefillin. They would then remove them before continuing.Similarly, (as quoted in Ot Cha’im VeShalom ibid) the Chatam Sofer would not recite the Shema while wearing his Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin as he didn’t want to recite the Shema while not wearing Rashi’s Tefillin. [25] See Levush 37:2[26] See Yeshu’ot Yaakov 37:1 in the name of Acharonim that, by Torah law, one must only put on the Tefillin once a day.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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