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December 17, 2012
Locking in the Moment
“And Joseph hitched up his wagon and went up to greet his father, Israel, towards Goshen, and he appeared before him, and he fell on his neck and he wept, and he fell on his neck more.” – Genesis 46:29
A Joyous Reunion
Joseph was the most beloved of Jacob’s sons. All of the Torah that Jacob learned, he taught to Joseph. In Joseph, Jacob saw brilliant intelligence and wisdom. In Joseph, he saw all of the attributes of his beloved Rachel – the kindness, the beauty, and the leadership qualities needed to head a nation. In Joseph, he recognized all of his own life events playing out in parallel.
When Jacob gave Joseph the coat of many colors, it was a symbol that established him as the leader of the brothers. To Jacob, Joseph represented the greatest of the tribes and the future of the Jewish nation.
Why would Yaakov recite the Shema now?
When the brothers came back with the report that Joseph was murdered, Jacob was inconsolable. The tragedy was so profound that none of his children could comfort him. Neither could any of the dignitaries who came to visit him. For years, the intensity of mourning didn’t leave Jacob. His beloved son was gone.
Finally after twenty-two painful years, father and son were reunited. The joy and emotion of the moment is difficult to imagine – deep yearnings of the heart finally realized. Joseph was so moved that he kissed his father, and then hugged him and cried, not just with tears, but with profuse crying that seemed as if it were without stop. However, Rashi notes that Jacob did not kiss Joseph, nor was he crying. He was reciting the Shema prayer, “Hear O Israel: G-d is our L-rd; G-d is one.”
This appears as a rather odd activity. Of all times, why did Jacob see fit to recite the Shema right then?
Jacob Was Locking in the Emotion
The answer to this question is that Jacob felt such intense emotions at that moment – possibly more intense joy than he had ever experienced – that he wanted to capitalize on those feelings. He didn’t want them to simply pass; he wanted lock them in, to put them into concrete form so that they would become eternal. He wanted to take that extreme sense of joy and completion that he felt and use it to reach a new level. With the high that he experienced, he proclaimed G-d’s sovereignty of all. “You, the Master of the universe, have brought my son back to me.” He recognized G-d with an unparalleled sense of appreciation and proclaimed the majesty of G-d with a level of complete clarity that he may well never had reached before.
This Wasn’t the First Time that Jacob Said Shema
Obviously, this wasn’t the first time that Jacob had said Shema. He had accepted G-d’s dominion on a daily basis for decades and decades. But this was a new level of understanding that he was only able to obtain through these powerful emotions.
Emotions Wax and Wane
This concept has great relevance to us. In the course of our lives, we experience highs and lows, times of great joy and times of deep sorrow, times of excitement and enthusiasm, and times of boredom and listlessness. There are times when we are passionate and fervent, and there are times when we are apathetic. None of these states remains for long. Like waves of an ocean, they come, they go, and when they are gone, we remain the same as before – unchanged.
Emotions are Tools for Growth
The ability to capture the moment, to convert it into something permanent, is one of the keys to growth. If a person has a dramatic realization, if an event occurs that is the undeniable result of G-d’s direct involvement in his life, he will feel a sense of appreciation of recognition. But that feeling will pass. That sense of clarity will leave.
Sometimes we are so moved by a sudden turn in circumstances that we say, “It is the hand of G-d!” But obvious as it may be at the moment, ten minutes later that sense of clarity is gone. The only way to prevent it from passing is to put that emotion into action, to take that understanding and make it permanent.
Thank You, G-d
Sometimes even the most elementary action can have a profound effect, something as simple as saying thank you. If a person says the words, “G-d, I recognize that these events were not by chance. I see that it is You Who orchestrates this world and I thank you,” this statement can take a fleeting recognition and make it lasting. Even though the concept was already clear, going through the process can have a dramatic effect on whether this understanding actually remains and changes my perception.
On the Good and on the Bad
On the opposite end of the spectrum are painful experiences – loneliness, suffering losses, failing in business. Nobody wishes for them and nobody wants them. However, when experiencing them, a person does have a very different perspective on themselves and on life. Gone is the feeling of independence, gone is the illusion of infallibility, and gone is the aura of superiority. In that sense, these are peak moments, moments of extraordinary clarity.
Ironically, the pain will pass and be forgotten. The question is: will the gain pass with it as well? If a person doesn’t take concrete steps to make that vision permanent, it too will pass and become just part of a distant memory.
When a person reaches a new level of understanding, that experience can be an event of life that happens and passes. But with one small step, it can become a permanent part of the person.
By training ourselves to lock in these peak moments, we can take life experiences, moments of unique lucidity, and make them part of ourselves. Often, all it takes is a simple conscious action, a decision, or a small change to make lofty concepts and emotional highs permanent – changing who I am forever.
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