In Parashat VaYigash, we read of two moving moments in Ya’akov’s life; one when he learns that Yosef, his son, is alive, and another when he meets Yosef for the first time in over twenty years.
The Midrash describes an interesting image in its discussion of the moment when Ya’akov learns that Yosef is alive. It reads, “Yosef sent wagons to his father and when Ya’akov saw them, the Torahteaches us the spirit of Ya’akov his father revived” (Bereishit Rabba 94:3).
Based on this Midrash, Rashi explains that when Yosef sent the wagons, or Agalot, to Ya’akov, he was trying to hint to the case of the decapitated cow, or Eglah Arufah (Devarim 21:1-9). The Eglah Arufah is a special case in which a corpse is found between two or more cities. The elders of the Sanhedrin determine which city is closest and the local Beit Din kill a calf and exclaim that they are not responsible for the death of the person. Yosef and his father were learning the laws of the Eglah Arufah before Yosef vanished. Rashi understands this because Agalah, wagon, and Eglah, cow, are spelled the same way in Hebrew. Rashi continues that as Ya’akov was escorting Yosef out of the city, he was fulfilling the commandment of the Eglah Arufah. In the case of the Eglah Arufah, if the elders want to state that “their hands did not spill this blood,” they needed to have escorted the victim out of the city and provided food for his journey. The reason for this is that the victim may have been lonely and he may have attacked someone for food, and during this attack he may have killed himself. But if the elders escorted him with food, then the victim would have no reason to attack someone. Ya’akov is alleviating the loneliness from Yosef, and when Ya’akov sees the wagons, he realized that his son is alive.
The Yerushalmi has a different perspective on the role of the wagons. It writes that they are a hint to the wagons which the Nesi’im donated during the dedication of the altar. The Torah includes only information which is Nitzrechah LeDorot, necessary for each generation. This is symbolized by the wagons, which are mobile, showing that even when Bnei Yisrael are wandering about, the Torahremains attached to them. Yosef had spent a very long time away from home, and Ya’akov was worried that Yosef forgot to keep the Torah. By sending the wagons which symbolize the Torah’s mobility, Yosef showed Ya’akov that he kept the Torah in Egypt. Therefore: “VaTechi Ru’ach Ya’akov Avihem,” “the spirit of Yaakov their father revived” (BeReishit 45:27).
In the second episode, when Yosef is reunited with Ya’akov, the Torah writes, “VaYesor Yosef Merkavto, VaYa’al Likrat Yisrael Aviv…VaYipol Al Tzavarav VaYeivk Al Tzavarav Od,” “And Yosef made ready his chariot and went up to meet Yisrael his father…and he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (BeReishit 46:29). From this Pasuk we would assume that it is Yosef who cried on Ya’akov’s shoulder, and Ya’akov wasn’t crying at all. Also, Chazal tell us that Ya’akov was reciting Keriyat Shema at that time. So the obvious question is: Why did Ya’akov have to recite Keriyat Shema at a very emotional moment?
One answer that Rav Yehuda Amital provides is that Ya’akov was teaching us to be appreciative of Hashem even during times of happiness. It is well known that when a person is in a state of misery, they want to pray to Hashem because they are in a time of desperation and needing of hope. To thank Hashem immediately, however, is a difficult task.
Rav Yehuda Amital offers a second answer by explaining the concept of “Hashem Echad,” Hashem’s oneness. Chazal say that Hashem’s characteristics are unique and there is no other being that can compare to Him. Hashem has a great knowledge unrivaled by any other being in the universe. The Kabbalists offer another approach. They explain that “Hashem Echad” means that His rule is one. There might be kings or dictators around the world, but ultimately, Hashem is the one ruling the world. At some time Bnei Yisrael were going to have to be sent to Egypt as predicted in the Brit Bein HaBetarim. Chazal explain that Ya’akov was initially supposed to go down to Egypt in iron chains, but Hashem had mercy on him and he went down peacefully. When Ya’akov finally stood before Yosef after more than twenty years, he realized how this was all part of Hashem’s master plan - this was the Brit Bein HaBetarim. Ya’akov understood that Hashem’s rule was truly one and there was no other force comparable to His. Therefore, at that moment the only rightful words which Ya’akov was able to say was: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”
The lesson which we can learn from both of these moments in Ya’akov’s life is to always remember that Hashem is watching us, and we should remember to attach ourselves to him. Even if we are far away from the Torah we should still observe Hashem’s laws. And we should always remember that every joyful event or tragedy is part of Hashem’s master plan.