There is an interesting and puzzlung Midrash which comments on an incident in this week's Parsha. When Yaakov and Yosef meet after so many years of separation, the Posuk describes the encounter as follows: "ויעל לקראת ישראל אביו גושנה...ויפול על צואריו ויבך על צואריו עוד" (בראשית מ"ו:כ"ט). Rashi notices what appears to be an obvious problem. When Yosef fell on Yaakov's neck and cried, what was Yaakov doing? Why did he not also cry on Yosef's neck? Quoting a Midrash, Rashi answers that Yaakov was saying Kerias Shema when he encountered his son.
The Meforshim, troubled by this interpretation, ask why Yaakov was the only one who said Kerias Shema. If it was time to say it, why didn't Yosef do so also? Furthermore, it appears peculiar that Yaakov should have chosen just that moment when he was finally meeting Yosef to say Shema. Couldn't he have found any other time to say it? Also, the text of Shema appears in Sefer Devarim, and is an address to the entire Bnai Yisrael. What was Yaakov doing getting involved in the recitation of such a Parsha just as he was meeting his long lost son?
It is possible that the Midrash has a special message which it is trying to convey to us. It is possible that Yaakov realized that the "Shema Yisrael" which would some day be directed at the nation of Yisrael was also actually addressing him in a specific way. The Yisrael being spoken to in this instance was him, Yaakov, who was also known as Yisrael.
Yaakov had lived a sad life, the years of which he described as (בראשית מ"ז:ט') מעט ורעים, few and unpleasant. It was his misfortune to have to cheat his brother and mislead his father in order to allow true Jewish ideals to survive. It was his misfortune to have to run away from his home to escape his brother. And to where did he escape? To the house of Lavan, who abused and oppresed him. He was then forced to escape again in order to return home, pursued by Lavan. He had to demean himself when he reached Eretz Yisrael and humble himself before his brother. Finally, when it seemed that he would see some peace after all these tragedies, he was subjected to the loss of his beloved son Yosef.
Were there times when Yaakov had doubts? Were there times when Yaakov questioned what this was all about? Surely there were. But suddenly, when Yaakov saw Yosef, everything became clear. Hashem had a grand plan. Even the exile into which he was now going in Egypt, where the Jewish people would be oppressed, was part of this grand plan. ה' אלקינו ה' אחד; Yaakov recognized that Hashem is unique, and that His plan is not always perceptible. And now that he had met
Yosef, and gained some understanding of how Hashem runs the world, Yaakov realized that the words of Shema were directed not only at the nation of Yisrael, but also at the man Yisrael, and he was too overwhelmed by this realization to react in any other way.