Parshas Vayigash is characterized by a number of dramatic reunions between Yosef and his family. It is instructive to analyze the actions and attitudes of the great people who were involved in these emotional occasions. The most powerful of all the reunions was clearly that of Yosef with his father Yaakov. Yaakov surely felt indescribable joy at seeing his beloved son after twenty two years of separation, having believed that Yosef was no longer alive. What did Yaakov do when he finally saw Yosef? Rashi tells us that he said the Shema. Some commentaries understand that he was fulfilling one of the two daily obligatory recitations of the Shema; they discuss why he chose this point to fulfill his obligation of Shema. However, the Maharal writes that Yaakov was not fulfilling the daily obligation of Shema. Rather he was saying Shema as an expression of his great connection to HaShem at this joyous time. Instead of focusing purely on the joy of seeing his son, he tried to direct all his happiness to love of HaShem. He chose Shema in particular, because this represents an acknowledgement of how everything HaShem does is ultimately for the good. Moreover, it involves kabbalas ol Malchus Shamayim, which means that as a result of one’s recognition of HaShem one totally subjugates himself to HaShem’s will. The most striking fact about Yaakov’s actions is that, even on an occasion of such great natural emotion, he strove to connect all his natural joy to HaShem and emphasize his subjugation to HaShem.
The Torah writes further that Yosef acted very differently in this same reunion. The Torah states: “Yosef harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father, to Goshen; and he appeared to him, fell on his neck, and he wept on him excessively.” Rashi explains the clause, “and he appeared to him,” to mean that Yosef appeared to Yaakov. The Ramban asks, that these words seem superfluous – once we know that Yosef fell on Yaakov’s neck it is obvious that Yosef appeared to his father. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l explains the significance of the fact that Yosef appeared to Yaakov: He notes that it is evident that Yosef himself felt great joy at the prospect of being reunited with his beloved father after so many years. However, Yosef approached this reunion with only one intent – to provide his father with as much joy as possible in being reunited with his son. Therefore, Yosef made a conscious effort to ‘appear’ or ‘make himself seen’ by his father when they met . He disregarded his own desire to see his father at that moment of reunion, and his single goal was to provide his father with as much joy as possible . We see from this explanation that Yosef had a very different intent from his father in this joyful reunion. Yaakov focused purely on his connection with HaShem at this time, whereas Yosef concentrated on the Mitzvo of kibud av v’eim (honoring one’s parents) to the greatest degree possible. The common denominator between the two was that the intent of both was purely to do what they perceived to be HaShem’s will at this time. This shows a tremendous level of constant awareness of HaShem, and a permanent desire to do his will, even at the height of one’s own natural emotions.
We learn similar lessons in this vein from the earlier reunion in the Parsha between Yosef and Binyomin. The Torah tells us: “Then he [Yosef] fell upon his brother, Binyomin’s neck and wept; and Binyomin wept upon his neck.” Chazal tell us that the two brothers saw through ruach hakodesh future calamaties that would take place in their portions of land in Eretz Yisroel: Yosef cried over the destruction of the two Temples that would be in Binyomin’s portion whilst Binyomin mourned the destruction of the Mishkan of Shiloh that would be in Yosef’s portion.
Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman shlita, discusses why they had such a vision at this time in particular. He explains that their thoughts and emotions were constantly directed to spirituality. Thus, despite the great emotion they felt at this time, their concerns were only spiritual. Had they only been focusing on their personal feelings, they would not have merited to receive ruach hakodesh. The fact that they did receive it at this time, demonstrates their lofty thoughts even at the heights of this powerful reunion. This is another example of how tzaddikim approach moments of great joy. There is a further lesson in how the two brothers reacted to their sad vision. It is noteworthy that they did not cry over the future destructions that would take place in their own portions, rather over the loss in the other brother’s portion. This shows, that, even in the midst of receiving ruach hakodesh, the brothers maintained a very high level of selflessness and sensitivity for others.
We have seen the great righteousness of Yaakov, Yosef and Binyomin, in how they conducted themselves at the height of their emotions. This demonstrates their constant sense of connecting to HaShem and doing His will. Whilst their level seems unattainable for us, there are a number of ways in which we can strive to emulate them in our daily lives. Indeed, halacha (Jewish law) dictates that even at times of great joy, we direct our happiness to HaShem. For example, on the occasion of the birth of a child we say the bracha (blessing) of shehechiyanu or hatov vehametiv. Likewise, we say one of these blessings when we acquire a new item that gives us great joy.
We can also emulate the heightened sense of bein adam lechaveiro that Yosef and Binyomin demonstrated at their reunion. Even at a time of great joy, they thought about other people more than themselves. A common example where this can be emulated is when a person is celebrating some kind of happy occasion. At such a time, one can easily become totally absorbed in his own joy and not notice other people. Yet this is an apt time to make the guests and well-wishers feel good by showing them that we are really happy to see them. This gives them a sense of importance and being appreciated. May we all merit to emulate the great personalities in the Torah, by serving HaShem even at times of great emotion.