In chapter 46 verse
29, the Torah tells us that when Jacob and Joseph were reunited
after 22 years, Joseph fell on Jacob's neck and cried excessively.
Rashi comments that only Joseph did this. Jacob did not. Our sages
tell us that the reason for this is because Jacob was reciting the
The question arises: if it
was indeed the time to recite the shema, why didn't Joseph do as
his father did?
One answer for this question
is that because Joseph was involved with doing a mitzvah (honoring
his father), the rule of Kol HaOseik B'mitzvah Patur min HaMitzvah
applies. This rule states that when one is doing any mitzvah, even
if another mitzvah comes up which might be greater in one's eyes,
he is exempt from that Mitzvah.
There is a problem with this
answer. The Talmud in tractate Kiddushin (32b) states that if one
has two mitzvos before him, one to honor his father, and one that
both he and his father are obligated to do, he should perform the
latter. Concerning the obligation to read the Shema, both Jacob
and Joseph were obligated. Therefore, Joseph could not be exempt
because of his involvement in another mitzvah.
The Maharal has a different
opinion here. There was no actual obligation to recite the shema
at that time. If so, what was Jacob doing?
There is a custom among righteous
and pious people that at a time of great joy or salvation, when
one feels gratitude towards G-d for the goodness bestowed upon him,
one recites the shema proclamation of the oneness of G-d and accepting
His kingship over the universe. One must bear in mind that He is
truly King in orchestrating this particular event as well as many
others in our daily lives.
Now we can understand why
Joseph did not act the same way as his father. Joseph had an obligation
(mitzvah) to honor his father by embracing him. Reciting shema which
was merely a custom in such a situation does not take precedence
over a mitzva. Jacob, who had no other obligation, took this chance
to fulfill the righteous custom of showing appreciation to G-d and
recognizing His hand in this reunion.
When good things are bestowed
upon us in our daily lives, for example a new child born, a job
promotion etc., our initial reaction is to celebrate. This story
teaches us that when we do celebrate, we must find a place for G-d.