One of the most moving accounts in the entire Torah is when Yaakov is reunited with his son, Yosef, after being separated for twenty-two years. The Chumash states, “Yosef harnessed his chariot and went up to meet Yisrael his father, to Goshen; and he appeared to him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck excessively” (46:29).
One common question on this Pasuk is: who was the one doing the weeping? It is unclear whether it was Yosef or Yaakov. The Torah does say “he wept” in the singular, implying that only one cried. This contrasts with the reunion of Yaakov and Eisav, where the Torah says, “And they wept” (33:4). There, because the Pasuk uses the plural “they,” there is no question as to who did the weeping; in our Parsha, though, we are not sure if it is referring to the subject of the Pasuk, Yosef, or the apparent antecedent of the pronoun, “his father Yisrael.”
Rashi answers this question by suggesting, “It was Yosef who appeared unto his father and wept on his neck…but Yaakov did not fall on Yosef’s neck, and he did not kiss him. Our rabbis state that he was reciting Shema.” Ramban, disagreeing with Rashi, claims that it was actually Yaakov who wept on his son’s neck.
These two commentators help us understand why the Pasuk specifically says that “he wept on his neck excessively.” According to Ramban, who feels that Yaakov was the one crying, the Pasuk says “excessively” because he had already been crying for twenty-two years over his son, and now he continued to cry even more. According to Rashi, who believes that Yosef was the one crying, the Pasuk says “excessively” because Yosef had not been able to cry for all these years. Now that he had the opportunity to cry, he wept excessively.
Rashi’s position still leaves one more question: why was Yaakov reciting the Shema? What is the connection between this reunion and Shema? Rav Soloveitchik suggests a beautiful answer to this question. He notes that in Shema, we mention the Mitzvah for a father to teach his son Torah: “VeShinantam LeVanecha,” “Teach [Torah] thoroughly to your children” (Devarim 6:7). Over the twenty-two years of separation, Yaakov did not have the opportunity to teach Torah to his son Yosef. Yaakov’s recital of the Shema at this time expressed his joy that he would finally be able to fulfill this Mitzvah.
A famous Midrash on our Parsha expresses this point as well. It says that the Agalot, wagons, sent by Yosef to Yaakov hinted at the topic of Eglah Arufah. Since Yaakov and Yosef were learning about Eglah Arufah just before Yosef was sold, the Agalot demonstrated to Yaakov that Yosef still remembered the Torah he had learned with Yaakov. Clearly, then, the Mitzvah of VeShinantam LeVanecha was a major aspect of the relationship between Yaakov and Yosef. Now that they were reunited, Yaakov took some time to thank Hashem for returning to him the ability to fulfill VeShinantam LeVanecha.