"And he presented himself to him and he fell upon his neck
and he wept on his neck a good while." This refers to Yosef.
Rashi notes that Yaakov did not fall upon Yosef's neck nor
did he kiss him. Chazal say that this was because he was
reciting Shema at that time.
Yaakov Ovinu does not descend to Egypt as a private person
who has come to be reunited with his long-lost beloved son in
a historic meeting. In his descent to Egypt, Yaakov is taking
the first step for the Children of Israel in their long
journey of exile. And at this momentous event, all of his
thoughts focus upon the need to implant the stamina into his
sons to persevere and survive along that terrible future
journey and to emerge from it with the least scathing
The actions and happenings of the Fathers are signposts for
their descendants, and all of the vigor and fortitude of
those descendants are derived from their forefathers. Thus,
this crossroads is a crucial point of transition from a life
heavily anchored in the spiritual climate of Eretz Yisroel
and its holy atmosphere, to the polluted depravity of Egypt
and its rampant licentiousness. This is the commencement of
that painful prophetic vision of exile experienced by Avrohom
Ovinu in which he was informed, "Your seed will be strangers
in an alien land. And they will be enslaved and tortured for
four hundred years."
Yaakov marches on with his tribes, fully conscious of the
critical impact of his ushering in a new era which will
change things forever after. Who knows what that bitter
future has in store?
Yaakov lays the cornerstone for Jewish survival. He implants
the fortitude for hanging on by the skin of their teeth. How?
By reciting the Shema! "Hear O Israel! Hashem is our G-
d! Hashem is One!"
With this trust and belief, no exile -- be it the most
difficult, the most threatening -- can overcome his
descendants. The nations can enslave us and torture us -- but
they cannot annihilate us for we will eventually emerge
Years later, Yaakov is about to die and his twelve sons
surround his deathbed, moments before he leaves them to
struggle on their own in the cruel exile. Moments before "the
eyes and hearts of Israel were obscured from the travails of
the exile," Yaakov wishes to know in what state he is leaving
his flock. Will they withstand the test of exile?
"He commenced by saying: `My sons I beg of you, honor and
cherish Hashem as did I and my ancestors.' And they replied:
`We know what [fear] lies in your heart. Hear, then, O
Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One.' And when Yaakov
heard this [declaration], he immediately bowed down"
(Yalkut Vayechi 49).
Yaakov wishes to ascertain that what he established at the
threshold of golus was still intact, in which case, he
need not fear the future and can die with an easy mind. And
his sons reply affirmatively and reassuringly, "Yes, Father,
have no fear. Shema Yisroel . . . " Yaakov hears their
declaration, acknowledges that it is true, and bows. He is
certain that with this faith firmly implanted in his sons,
they will emerge from this crucible, this lion's den, forged
"Shema Yisroel." A verse borne upon the lips of tens
of thousands of our people through rivers of blood and
billowing pillars of furnace smoke. These holy words were
framed upon the lips of those bound upon the altars, burned
in the ovens. Shema Yisroel is the secret of those who
did not succumb, who did not surrender.
"For they are My servants which I took out of the land of
Egypt. They shall not be sold as slaves are sold"
(Vayikra 25:42). Even in exile, even when the
prophetic retribution of the tochacha "You will be
sold there for servants" is being fulfilled, it is not a
transaction that characterizes slavery, such as we find by
the Canaanite slaves, "And you shall enslave them forever,"
which is an absolute bondage of no escape.
Jews, however, are more like indentured servants, not slaves.
Their exile is never final and absolute but temporary; their
status is always reversible. Why? Because they are "My
servants." Because "Hashem is our G-d; Hashem is One."
Our allegiance is to Hashem. We have accepted His yoke and
His rule upon us and as His servants, we cannot be sold or
done away with as a nation.
Yaakov Ovinu, himself, does not rely upon his own testament
to his sons. In toiling to implant the foundation of faith
within his sons so that no exile, no nation and no doctrine
can overcome them, he draws upon the strength of the very
founder of this nation, that pillar of faith who disseminated
truth to the entire world: Avrohom Ovinu.
"And Yisroel said: `Suffice it! Yosef my son is yet alive. I
shall go and see him ere I die.' And Yisroel and all that he
possessed traveled and he came to Beer Sheva."
Where did he go? asks the Midrash. Why did the descent to
Egypt necessitate his having to go via Beer Sheva where he
built an altar? It replies: "Said R' Nachman: He went to chop
down the cedars which Avrohom his grandfather had planted in
Beer Sheva, as it is written, `And he planted an
eishel (tamarisk tree) in Beer Sheva."
Yaakov took along with him to Egypt that seed of faith which
Avrohom had implanted, the cedars with which he established a
hostel of hospitality in Beer Sheva from which he
disseminated the monotheistic belief to one and all that the
world must have a Creator; it could not have come into being
all by itself. The faith that Hashem is our G-d; Hashem is
One. With this credo, this reassurance, this firm
preparation, Yaakov can proceed into the crucible with full
confidence that his descendants will survive the long bitter
exile and emerge intact.
(Adapted from the Imrei Emes)