By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey
In this week’s Torah portion of Vaigash (Berieshis [Genesis] 44:18-47:27) the reunion of Jacob and Joseph, after a separation of 22 years, finally happens. However, Jacob did not kiss him then; he was saying the Shema... a jaw-dropping breach of human emotion! And what was Jacob teaching his son, Joseph, then?
A story. Naphtali – "Tolchik," to his friends - and his wife raised their children under the Soviets and managed to maintain their Judaism intact. By the early 1950s, the entire family had managed to escape, most of them with false passports. Except for their grown son, Meir, and his growing family.
Their other son, Berel, had escaped together with Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's mother, posing as her son. Upon arrival in New York, Berel became a diamond cutter, Tolchik and his wife, together with their daughter, settled in Montreal. Their other son Dovid was in Antwerp. Tolchik was happy, except for Meir's being held by the Soviets.
There is a custom to receive matzah from one's Rebbe before Passover. Naturally, Berel would be doing so.
"When you receive matzah from the Rebbe," Tolchik told his son Berel, "mention to him your brother Meir."
"But do not ask for just a brachah, a blessing," continued Tolchik. "Ask for a havtachah – an assurance – that my Meir will make it out alive."
The Rebbe handed matzah to Berel. Berel mentioned his brother Meir and the Rebbe gave his brachah. "My father requests your assurance that Meir will come out," Berel responded.
The Rebbe's face grew dark and his hand shook. "Shlep mir nisht beim tzung(Don't wrench words out of me that I cannot say)!" the Rebbe answered with rare sting, and added, "My father-in-law [the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe] accomplished greater things than this."
Berel saw tears begin to fall from the Rebbe's eyes. The Rebbe gave Berel another piece of matzah. "You will give this to your brother."
"My brother Dovid in Belgium?" Berel asked.
"No. Meir. Not necessarily in America, but somewhere close by."
A few years later, the family got word that Meir had plans to spirit his family across the border with forged passports. He failed. More years passed. Berel held the matzah for his brother. Eighteen years he held onto that matzah. Matzah, which the Kabbalah calls the "Bread of Faith."
Then they heard the news. Meir is free! With his wife! With his sons! With his daughter! They received visas to Canada ("not necessarily America, but close by...") and Berel went to Montreal just as fast as he could. Berel hadn't seen his brother in over twenty years. He ran towards his brother. His brother ran towards him. He gave his brother that piece of matzah. And then - they fell into each other's arms.
Berel's story explains our patriarch’s Jacob behavior. He finally saw Joseph – a miracle! – but Jacob did not kiss him; he was saying the Shema... the statement of faith and belief of the Jew, Berel showed, with that piece of matzah, and so our father, Jacob, that a moment of faith reflects not separation between long-lost loves. It holds them together.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - from Rabbi Shimon Posner)
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!