Parshas Vayechi - Not Just One God but Oneness - Holding On In The Darkness of Exile
וַיִּקְרָ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב אֶל־בָּנָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הֵאָֽסְפוּ֙ וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּאַֽחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִֽים
"Jacob called for his sons and said, "Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days." (Bereishis 49:1)
The Gemara in Pesachim (56a) teaches that Yaakov Avinu wanted to reveal to his children the what would occur at the end of days but the Shechinah withdrew from him and he began to say other things. Yaakov Avinu thought that he was unable to prophesize because one of his descendants was unfit (just as Avraham fathered Yishmael and Yitzchak fathered Eisav) but his children recited Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Just as there is only one God in your heart, so too there is only one God in our hearts. At that moment Yaakov responded, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuso LiOlam Vaed, Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. This indicated that all of the children of Yaakov were righteous.
The Medrash Tanchuma similarly teaches:
And Yaakov called to his sons. This is what the pasuk refers to when it states (Iyov 12:20): “[HaShem] removes [speech from] the lips of the loyal; and the reason of the elderly [i.e. the wise] he will take away.” The pasuk speaks of Yitzchak and Yaakov who wanted to reveal the secrets of Hakadosh Baruch Hu; Yitzchak, concerning whom it says “And he called over his son Esav”; Yitzchak wanted to reveal the “end of days,” but HaShem then hid it from him; similarly, Yaakov wanted to do so to his sons, and HaShem kept it a secret.
To what can this be compared? To a servant whose king trusted implicitly. When the servant was about to die, he called over his children, all of whom were servants as well, and said, “Let me reveal to you where your documents of freedom are stored. The king discovered the servant’s intention and stood next to the servant, preventing this from taking place. Whereupon the servant’s charge to his sons then was, “Please make sure that you serve the king as faithfully as I have always served him.”
Similarly, Yaakov wanted to reveal the end of all exiles and oppressions to his sons. HaShem said, “About your sons you are concerned but not about Me?” Whereupon Yaakov said to his sons, “I ask of you that you serve HaShem faithfully just as I and my fathers have served Him” (see pasuk 48:15). His sons responded, “We know exactly what you mean — Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad! Yaakov then responded to that, saying silently, “Baruch shem kvod malchuso l’olam va’ed.”
Thus the pasuk states, “The honor of G-d is that a matter is concealed, but it is the honor of [mortal] kings to search out a matter” (Mishlei 25:2) and also “He who reveals a secret is a talebearer, but one faithful of spirit conceals a matter” (Mishlei 11:13).
As we consider this story several questions arise.
1. Why was Yaakov inclined to share the end of days with his children? The Gemara in Sanhedrin (97b) teaches that one who calculates the end of days is cursed because if Mashiach does not come by that date people will believe that Mashiach will not come at all. Rather we are instructed to wait for Mashiach even though he may tarry. Surely Yaakov understood that we are meant to wait for the arrival of Mashiach every day. Why then would he want to reveal to us the time of Mashiach?
2. Hashem strongly objects to Yaakov's decision to reveal to his children the end of days. The Medrash says that Hashem said to Yaakov, “About your sons you are concerned but not about Me?” This is a very intense rebuke of Yaakov Avinu! We can assume that Yaakov Avinu was well intentioned in his desire to share this prophecy with his children. Why does Hashem accuse Yaakov of only being concerned with his own children?
3. How does Shema Yisrael answer Yaakov Avinu's concern with the future lineage of his children? The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 98:3) teaches that Yaakov Avinu instituted Kerias Shema for generations to come. What is it about Kerias Shema that it resonates so deeply with Yaakov?
4. What is the inner meaning of Yaakov's response of Baruch Shem?
One God and Oneness
All of creation is an expression of Godliness. Although creation appears to be an independent entity from God, the very appearance of being separate from God is also an expression of His truth. Just as God provides the energy that fuels all of existence into being, He hides and conceals that energy so that the world can appear to exist on its own.
An analogy can help us understand this concept. When a teacher attempts to give over a very difficult concept to a student, they may employ analogies and metaphors to explain the concept. The metaphor itself seems to have no direct connection to the concept that the teacher is attempting to explain and the student may be wondering why the teacher is speaking about something that seems to have no relevance to the topic at hand. However, the teacher is aware of the message that is being conveyed and sees how the metaphor expresses the deeper concept that is being conveyed. Ultimately the student, after laboring through the analogy, can comprehend how the metaphor expresses the abstract concept that is being taught. In this fashion the teacher and the student share the same perception of the idea.
God is our teacher. God’s energy is the concept he wishes for us, His students, to understand. The forces (oros and keilim) that produce various states of existence are the analogies God uses to convey the concept. God as our teacher understands that these mystical forces are merely expressions of His energy. We, His students, at first perceive these metaphors as separate entities. We do not understand what they have to do with the lesson being taught. Because of this we can see our own existence as separate and other than God’s existence. Ultimately, we the students must look at the analogy and connect it back to the concept that is being taught. In this way we learn that all of existence are expressions of His divine energy.
Every day when we say Kerias Shema we are not merely recalling the fact that there is one God and no others. That is a simple truth and one that does not need to be consciously recalled every day. On the other hand, our world appears to be a disparate entity from God. One can easily believe in God and see existence as separate and distinct. In order to maintain our consciousness of oneness we need to constantly recall the message of Kerias Shema (see Rambam Kerias Shema 1:2 who emphasises the theme of divine unity in Shema). This is especially true as we venture out into the world. As Jews we relish the opportunity to relate to Godliness in all of its various manifestations. Without a consciousness of oneness we can easily believe that the world is separate from God. That history is just a series of accidents. That there is no plan and purpose to the various movements of this world.
This is in line with the Beis Yosef (OC 61) who writes that when saying the word Echad one must have in mind when uttering the “aleph” that God is One (aleph is one in gematria); when uttering the “chet” that He is the only One in the seven firmaments and on earth (chet is 8 in gematria); and when uttering the “dalet” alludes to the four directions and that in the future, the entire world will proclaim His Oneness (dalet is 4 in gemtria). Thus the word Echad expresses the absolute unity of God in this world.
In truth the word yachid (single, alone) would seem to better convey the oneness of G‑d, since the word echad also has the connotation of "one of many." However, according to our understanding, the word echad is actually more appropriate because it conveys the idea that even in the realm of the many, in all seven heavens and the firmament and in all four corners of the world, God is still the only one. Not yachid outside of reality but echad even within the context of otherness we still say ein od milvado.
With this concept in mind it becomes clear why we cover our eyes when saying Shema. When we look at existence around us, we do not readily see God. Our existence only points to selfhood. Seeing happens all at once. We look at an image and we see the entirety of the picture. As a result, we only see the surface of the picture. Not so when it comes to listening. Hearing happens in stages. If all the sounds come to us at once it is merely noise. When we listen, we hear noises sequentially and we put together the noises to form an understanding of what is being conveyed. In this way we are able to listen not only to the noises but to the deeper message that is being conveyed. The tone and tenor of a person’s voice convey as much as the words they are speaking. Shema means to gather together (as in vayeshama Shaul es ha'am - and shaul gathered together the nation). In order to sense the reality that lies behind what our five senses tell us, we cover our eyes. Only in this way can we truly “listen” to what lies beyond existence. In this way we gather together, create a consciousness of a unified existence where all is truly God’s oneness.
The protection of Kerias Shema
Before entering a battle, the Kohen would address the soldiers with words of encouragement. “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses, and chariots, and people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you. And before you come unto the battle, then the Kohen will approach and speak to the people, and shall say unto them: “Hear, O Israel, you are about to enter today into battle against your enemies; don’t let your heart weaken; fear not, nor be alarmed, don’t be afraid of them.” (Devarim 20:1-3)
The Gemara in Sotah (42a) asks, “Why does the Torah use the phrase “Hear O Israel” [in the Kohen’s address to the soldiers]? Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: [It is as if] God says to the soldiers, “Even if you have only kept the mitzvah of reading the Shema in the morning and evening, they won’t defeat you.”
The idea that Kerias Shema provides a special protection is also seen in the Gemara in Berachos (5a) which says “Rabbi Yitzchak said: Whoever recites kerias shema by his bed (before going to sleep), it is as if he is holding on to a double-edged sword (to kill all the supernatural forces who rise up against him). And Rabbi Yitzchak said: Whoever recites kerias shema by his bed (before going to sleep), the demons will stay away from him.”
Why is it that saying Kerias Shema provides a special protection? Our mission is to bring God down into this world. In this world it is difficult to see the oneness of God. When someone lives a life that is aligned with the truth of reality, they can rise above the suffering of this world. All suffering is a lack of alignment which is why in this world there is much suffering. By saying Kerias Shema and aligning oneself with the true consciousness of God’s oneness, recognizing that in truth there is nothing but God, one is afforded a special protection. The Kohen was reminding the soldiers on the eve of battle that as they enter into combat, they must remember the truth of ein of milvado. In this way there were assured victory.
The theme of ein od milvado serving as a protection is expressed explicitly in the Gemara in Chullin (7b) which relates that a sorceress sought to remove dust covertly from beneath Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa’s feet, in order to kill him through witchcraft. Rabbi Chanina told her, “Take the dust. Your formula will not succeed because it is written (Devarim4:35) ‘Ein od milvado — There is none besides Him.”
The Gemara further explains that Rabbi Chanina’s superior degree of merit granted him heavenly protection against the powers of witchcraft.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner in Nefesh HaChaim (Shaar Three, Ch. 12) explains that the two answers of the Gemara work together. While Rabbi Chanina was a great Torah scholar, it was not in the merit of his learning that he was protected but rather it was his complete belief in “ein od milvado — that no other force whatsoever can interfere with Hashem’s control of the universe. By aligning himself with the true reality that there is none other but God, Rabbi Chanina was protected from all “other” forces in the universe.
Therefore, Rav Chaim Volozhin advises: “A person … must make himself completely dependent upon God, paying no heed to any other power or will in the world. When he truly does this, then, just as with Rabbi Chanina, Hashem will cause all forces and desires in the world to be null and void against him, and none of these will have any effect on him whatsoever.”
He states that the words “ein od milvado” said with great conviction stand as a full and potent merit to protect one from any harm.
A story involving the Brisker Rav illustrates that when the words “ein od milvado” are said with full conviction, they serve as protection from even the greatest dangers. When Reb Velvel (as the Brisker Rav was affectionately known) reached draft age, he was called for an interview by the local draft board. It was not easy to obtain a release, and being drafted posed both a physical and spiritual threat to Reb Velvel. On the appointed day, Rav Chaim of Brisk and his son traveled to the draft board’s office, located in another town. On the way, he and his son sat together and concentrated on the thought “ein od milvado — there is no power beside Him” (Devarim 4:35). Rav Chaim told his son to continue concentrating on this thought throughout the visit until he received a release, and indeed he was released. (As seen in Praying with Fire - Adapted from Reb Chaim of Volozhin by Rabbi Dov Eliach, ArtScroll Mesorah Publ. History Series, p. 199.)
The Unity of God, Torah and Klal Yisrael
Just as God is one with the world, He is one with the Torah and Klal Yisrael as the Zohar says “God, the Torah and the Nation of Israel are one.” (Part I, 24a; II, 60a)
Regarding the unity of God and the Torah the Alter Rebbe in Tanya (chapter 4) explains this concept as follows. God’s knowledge is unlike human knowledge for as the Rambam states “He is the Knower, the Knowledge and the Known.” In other words, a human being is not their thoughts. There is the person and the faculty of intelligence. Not so with God who is one. Since God is truly one, He cannot be separated from His thoughts. The Torah is the will and wisdom of God and since God is one with his will and wisdom, God is one with the Torah.
Since Kerias Shema is the daily expression of ein od milvado, there is nothing but God, it comes as no surprise that one can find the core essence of the Torah expressed in Kerias Shema.
The Yerushalmi (Berachot 1:5) explains that we read Kerias Shema every day because the Ten Commandments are included within them.
[The following pairs, the first phrase is from the Ten Commandments, and the second is from the Shema.]
“I am the Lord your God” = “Hear”;
“You shall have no other Gods” = “The Lord is One”;
“Don’t take God’s Name in vain” = “You shall love” – one who loves the King won’t swear falsely in His Name;
“Remember the day of Shabbat” = “you will thus remember”;
“Honor you father and mother” = “you and your children will long endure on the land”;
“Do not murder” = “you will rapidly vanish” – someone who murders will be murdered;
“Do not commit adultery” = “You will then not stray after your heart and eyes”;
“Don’t steal” = “you will have an ample harvest” – and not the harvest of someone else;
“Don’t bear false witness against your fellow” = “I am the Lord your God”;
“Do not covet your fellow’s house” = “On the doorposts of your house” – your house and not on your friend’s house;
Thus far we have seen that Shema teaches us the notion that God is one with the world which is not truly other than Him and God is one with the Torah. We will now see that Shema teaches us that God is one with Klal Yisrael.
The Medrash Tanchuma (Kedoshim 6) teaches that the number of words in the Shema corresponds to the number of organs in the body.
“Rabbi Mani says: Don’t take the reading of the Shema lightly, because there are 248 words in it, including the phrase “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity” [as well as the phrase “The Lord your God is true” after the Shema]. These correspond to the 248 limbs [of the body and soul]. God said, “If you guard the 248 words of the Shema and read them properly, then I will guard your [248 limbs in your body and soul].”
In truth there are only 245 words of Shema, but the Chazzan repeats the last three words of the Shema and thus we have 248 words (Zohar Chadash Midrash Rut, Maamar al Kriat Shema). When davening alone, the words “Kel Melech Ne’eman” are added to the beginning of Shema instead.
Rav Tzadok HaKohen (Dover Tzedek, Section 8) teaches that Kerias Shema nourishes the soul like food for the body.
The Gemara in Berachos (2b) likens reading the Shema at the right time with eating. This teaches that reading the Shema does for the soul what eating does for the body.
Why is it that Kerias Shema nourishes the soul? What is the inner connection between the 248 words of Kerias Shema and the 248 limbs of the body?
The soul receives its nourishment when it is connected to the true version of reality. As long as a person sees the source of their sustenance as the physical world, the soul derives no nourishment from that food. When the soul experiences the consciousness of ein of milvado, when it sees that the very existence of the body is really just an expression of divine energy, the it is able to be nourished from that reality. Kerias Shema as the ultimate expression of God’s immanence in every limb of the body provides sustenance for the soul.
Yaakov Avinu and Rav Yehuda HaNasi - A Nighttime Kerias Shema
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (96:5) connects Yaakov Avinu living in Mitzrayim for seventeen years with Rav Yehuda HaNasi who lived in Tzippori for seventeen years.
The Arizal teaches that Rav Yehuda HaNasi was a Nitzotz of Yaakov Avinu. The Megaleh Amukos (Vayechi, Vaeschanan 83) teaches that the word nIt asi is an acronym for nitzotz shel Yaakov Avinu.
The Toldos Yaakov Yosef explains that the seventeen years Yaakov lived in Mitzrayim is connected to the concept that kol man d’avid rachmana litav avid, everything that Hashem does is for the best. This is because the gematria of the word Tov is seventeen. In the last seventeen years of Yaakov Avinu’s life he was able to look back on his life and see that everything that happened to him was for the best. Interestingly, Yosef is sold down to Mitzrayim at the age of seventeen, indicating that even at the outset Yosef’s sale down to Mitzrayim was all for the best.
It is thus fitting that Yaakov Avinu at the end of his life instituted Kerias Shema as a Teffila for Klal Yisrael for all future generations. Though we would be living through a long and arduous golus, Kerias Shema and its consciousness of ein od milvado give a Jew the strength to persevere.
Fittingly, Rav Yehuda HaNasi, as a Nitzotz of Yaakov Avinu begins Torah SheBaal Peh with the Mishna that discusses saying Kerias Shema at night. In truth the Oral tradition was never meant to be written down but because of the difficulties of golus Rav Yehuda HaNasi felt he had no choice but to compile the Torah SheBaal Peh into the Six sedarim of Mishnayos. What greater message to Klal Yisrael could there have been than to begin the Mishnayos by learning the Mitzvah of saying Kerias Shema at night. In the nighttime, in the difficult times of our lives, a Jew concentrates on Kerias Shema and ein od milvado and in this way they can see that even the prolonged exile is a part of God’s plan. By learning the concept of the seventeen years of Yaakov in Mitzrayim and the seventeen years of Rav Yehuda HaNasi in Tzippori we can recall that even though we are not yet at the end, we have faith that everything God does is for the best.
Rav Akiva and Kerias Shema
וַתֵּ֤שֶׁב בְּאֵיתָן֙ קַשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַיָּפֹ֖זּוּ זְרֹעֵ֣י יָדָ֑יו מִידֵי֙ אֲבִ֣יר יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב מִשָּׁ֥ם רֹעֶ֖ה אֶ֥בֶן יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
“But his bow was strongly established, and his arms were gilded from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob; from there he sustained the rock of Israel” (Bereishis 49:24)
The Arizal points out that the words Avir Yaakov are the same letters as Rebbi Akiva. He further points out that there are many similarities between the lives of Yaakov Avinu and Rav Akiva. Yaakov was a shepherd for his father in Lavan and Rav Akiva was a shepherd for his father law Kalba Savua. Both Yaakov and Rav Akiva were married to two women. Yaakov was married to Rachel and Rav Akiva was married to Rachel as well (who was a Nitzotz of Rachel Imeinu). Even Rav Akiva’s name is Akiva ben Yosef.
The Gemara in Berachos (61) tells us the horrific fashion in which Rav Akiva was murdered by the Romans.
בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהוֹצִיאוּ אֶת רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא לַהֲרִיגָה זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע הָיָה, וְהָיוּ סוֹרְקִים אֶת בְּשָׂרוֹ בְּמַסְרְקוֹת שֶׁל בַּרְזֶל, וְהָיָה מְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עוֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו: רַבֵּינוּ, עַד כָּאן?! אָמַר לָהֶם: כׇּל יָמַי הָיִיתִי מִצְטַעֵר עַל פָּסוּק זֶה ״בְּכָל נַפְשְׁךָ״ אֲפִילּוּ נוֹטֵל אֶת נִשְׁמָתְךָ. אָמַרְתִּי: מָתַי יָבֹא לְיָדִי וַאֲקַיְּימֶנּוּ, וְעַכְשָׁיו שֶׁבָּא לְיָדִי, לֹא אֲקַיְּימֶנּוּ? הָיָה מַאֲרִיךְ בְּ״אֶחָד״, עַד שֶׁיָּצְתָה נִשְׁמָתוֹ בְּ״אֶחָד״. יָצְתָה בַּת קוֹל וְאָמְרָה: ״אַשְׁרֶיךָ רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא שֶׁיָּצְאָה נִשְׁמָתְךָ בְּאֶחָד״
When they took Rabbi Akiva out to be executed, it was time for the recitation of Shema. And they were raking his flesh with iron combs, and he was reciting Shema, thereby accepting upon himself the yoke of Heaven. His students said to him: Our teacher, even now, as you suffer, you recite Shema? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by the verse: With all your soul, meaning: Even if God takes your soul. I said to myself: When will the opportunity be afforded me to fulfill this verse? Now that it has been afforded me, shall I not fulfill it? He prolonged his uttering of the word: One, until his soul left his body as he uttered his final word: One. A voice descended from heaven and said: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that your soul left your body as you uttered: One.
What is the significance of the fact that Rav Akiva was saying Kerias Shema while the Romans were torturing him? That he died with the word echad on his lips?
The Ruzhiner Rebbe explains that in truth every time we do a Mitzvah we should die. A Mitzvah connects us to the true reality and as such our own worldly existence should fade away. The passuk however says vichai bahem, and you shall live by them. On a surface level this passuk indicates to us that unless we are being asked to violate one of the three cardinal sins it is better for us to live and violate God's commandments rather than die al Kiddush Hashem. On a deeper level we can understand this passuk to mean that every Mitzvah instills life in the one who performs the Mitzvah. Thus the Mitzvah that ought to extinguish our existence ends up instilling life within us.
With this in mind we can understand what Rav Akiva was teaching his talmidim as he was being tortured by the Romans. Every day when Rav Akiva would say Kerias Shema he would attach himself to the concept of ein od milvado and his existence would be totally nullified. His level of attachment to God was so total that were it not for the passuk of vichai bahem he would have died with a misas neshika, a kiss of death. A misas neshika is when the soul is gently drawn out of the body (life was instilled when God kissed us to speak by blowing life into us). (Note: Yaakov Avinu is deeply connected to the concept of neshika, kissing. The first kiss in the Torah is when Yitzchak kisses Yaakov when conferring upon him the blessing of the firstborn Bereishis 27:27. Further Yaakov kisses Rachel when he first meets her Bereishis 29:11. Both Lavan and Eisav attempt to kiss Yaakov. Rather than kiss Yosef when he comes down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov Avinu recites Kerias Shema which is the spiritual form of a kiss.) Now that the Romans were killing Rav Akiva there was no more Mitzvah of vichai bahem and therefore the consciousness of ein od milvado that comes alone with Kerias Shema could take Rav Akiva's life. As the Romans were torturing him, Rav Akiva was not impacted by their iron combs tearing off his flesh. He was not present in this world. In fact it was not the Romans who killed Rav Akiva at all. He died with the word echad. As Rav Akiva connected to the notion of God's oneness his soul left his body with a misas neshika. This is the inner meaning of the fact that Rav Akiva elongated the word echad. All (elongated) of existence is really just a manifestation of God's divine energy. What we experience to be reality is really just God. Rav Akiva's last teaching to his talmidim was the lesson of how to survive the torture of Golus. Remember all of our lives are just expressions of the divine will. Everything has a plan and a purpose. Ein od milvado.
Fittingly who is the one who lives with the idea of kol man diavad rachamana litav avid, everything God does is for the best? The Gemara in Berachos (60) tells us that it is none other than Rav Akiva who was accustomed to saying this phrase throughout his life. The gilgul of Yaakov Avinu understood the message of the seventeen years Yaakov lived in Mitzrayim. He understood the message Rav Yehuda HaNasi was expressing when he began the Mishnayos with the Kerias Shema of nighttime. Just as Yaakov Avinu at the end of his life instituted the Mitzvah of Kerias Shema, so too Rav Akiva ended his life with the Mitzvah of Kerias Shema.
We are now prepared to return to our original questions.
Why was Yaakov inclined to share the end of days with his children?
Imagine a prophet told you that tomorrow at 3pm God is going to send you a challenging nisayon. The prophet tells you exactly what the nisayon will be and why God is sending you this particular challenge. Imagine what your teffilos might look like as you get closer and closer to the time of the nisayon. At 255pm you are waiting with baited breath. And when the moment finally arrives you have the clear presence of mind to know exactly what you need to do in order to pass this difficult test. With knowledge of what will occur in the future and why it is occurring a long and arduous golus becomes that much lighter. Of course in exile we will still suffer in ways that baffle the mind but knowing when the golus will end allows us to push through the difficult times.
At the end of his life Yaakov Avinu seeks to soften the golus that Klal Yisrael would endure. In revealing to the Shevatim the purpose of the golus, the challenges they would face, and the ultimate conclusion of the redemption, Yaakov hoped to give Klal Yisrael the tools to survive. In other words, Yaakov hoped to show Klal Yisrael how everything in the future was part of a master plan. Each event leads to another and the story is perfectly scripted. Without this knowledge how could we survive? History seems random and cruel. How could Klal Yisrael maintain their connection to God when He seems to have abandoned them? A parent trusts the doctor who gives them a shot because they understand the ultimate goal of the pain. Not so the child who cannot see the full picture. The parent must educate the child to understand that the pain is part of a larger picture and one that ultimately is beneficial.
But God strongly objects to Yaakov Avinu. “About your sons you are concerned but not about Me?” In other words, not knowing God’s plan is part and parcel of the golus process. Of course it would be much easier if we were to understand in advance how all of this is for an ultimate good but then we would be missing out on something fundamental. Understanding God’s plan takes the mystery out of history. Finding God in the darkness of exile is a critical aspect of our journey towards redemption. Staying married when times are good is not nearly as impressive as staying loyal when times are difficult. Yes, in Golus God is hidden. It may be nearly impossible to discern His presence. In such times a Jews calls upon their emunah and with hearts full of faith we remain loyal to God and the mission for which we were created. Were we to know in advance the entirety of God’s plan we would be robbed of the opportunity to build our emunah.
This is the meaning of God’s objection to Yaakov. I see that you care deeply about your children. As a parent, who would not want to soften the pain for the children? But God also has a plan and Yaakov must ultimately remain loyal to that plan. Yaakov has to care about God’s plan as much as he cares about his own children.
With this in mind, we can understand why the Shevatim responded by saying Shema Yisrael. Yaakov’s children were assuaging his fears. It is as if they are saying, of course we do not know God’s plan but with the consciousness of Kerias Shema we can survive. Knowing that all of reality is just an expression of God’s oneness empowers us to rise to the challenge of the nisyonos we will face. Though the challenges we will face will be exceedingly difficult, Kerias Shema will protect us. Yes, it would certainly be easier to know the end in advance but we are prepared to see beyond the surface of history and find God.
Indeed, both the Shema and Baruch Shem are composed of six words. Thus, Yaakov and his sons together recited twelve words, corresponding to the twelve Shevatim. Together, Shema and Baruch Shem are comprised of forty-nine letters, corresponding exactly to the number of letters in the names of the twelve tribes! The message is clear. Kerias Shema permeates our very essence. Calling upon the power of Kerias Shema will give us the power to survive and even thrive. Knowing the end is unnecessary.
Why does Yaakov respond by saying Baruch Shem Kivod Malchuso LiOlam Vaed?
The Maharsha (Pesachim) explains that Yaakov's response invoking Hashem's sovereignty invoked the theme of kabalas ol malchut shomayim. Understanding Hashem’s unity becomes the foundation for greater commitment to His mission. Beyond merely surviving in Golus we have the opportunity to thrive in exile as we commit and recommit ourselves to maintaining our loyalty to Him. Knowing God’s oneness cannot merely be an abstract concept. It must lead us to action in avodas Hashem. In this way we actively find God in the darkness of golus.
In these difficult times of Golus, with antisemitism on the rise and attacks on Jews occurring with greater frequency, it is important for us to maintain the consciousness of Kerias Shema. Everything that is happening is part of God’s plan. Calling on political assets to assist in our protection may be a part of our hishtadlus but we must never forget that ultimately we can only rely on Hashem. This is an opportunity to serve Hashem with great passion. To take upon ourselves new commitments in our avodas Hashem. Though we do not know when the end is coming, the Tzaddikim have told us that the end is very near. In these last moments before the arrival of Mashiach the birth pangs are very strong. May we be blessed to have the strength to increase our emunah and hold just a little bit longer.