Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayigash) Reunion!
Our forefather Yaacov continually mourned over the loss of his beloved son Yosef for twenty-two years. He suddenly received the surprising and wonderful news that Yosef was alive and was the Viceroy of Egypt. Yaacov, at the age of one hundred and thirty years, journeyed with his entire family from Israel to Egypt to reunite with Yosef.

The Torah describes Yosef’s meeting with his father and mentions that Yosef fell weeping on his father’s neck. Surprisingly, the Torah does not depict Yaacov’s reaction or emotion during the first moments of the meeting.

Our Sages fill us in with the details and tell us that Yaacov used this special opportunity to recite the declaration of Sh’ma Yisroel. With this he expressed his appreciation to the One who orchestrated his reunion with his son.

Our Sages tell us that Yaacov inaugurated the Egyptian exile, our first exile, expressing his belief in G-d’s Omnipotence. This expression would eventually carry his descendants through their travails during their long history.

In truth, it is hard to find a Jew who cannot recite the holy declaration of, “Sh’ma Yisroel, Ado-noy E-lo-hai-nu Ado-noy Echad.”
There is an accepted custom to cover our eyes with our right hand while reciting the verse of “Sh’ma Yisroel.” What is the basis for this custom?

There are a number of reasons offered:

Shulchan Oruch explains that we place our hand over our eyes to avoid distraction and to enhance our concentration during the recitation of this holy declaration.

Rabbi Shimon Schwalb o.b.m. explains that during our expression of G-d’s unity we cover our eyes to indicate that we exclude every possible argument or excuse for not accepting Hashem – the Almighty – and to concentrate our thoughts on the truth that – the Almighty is the one and only!

The question raised is, why don’t we just shut our eyes during the recitation, what is the significance of covering them with our hand?

In two of the three paragraphs of the Sh’ma, the Mitzvah of donning Tefilin on our arm and on our head is stated. One of the functions of the Tefilin on the head is to connect our intellect that resides in our head with holiness. The Tefilin on the arm is positioned near our heart, to connect spirituality and holiness to the wishes of our heart.

In the Tefilin box worn on the head there are four compartments, whereas the Tefilin box that is tied to the arm has a single box. The Vilna Goan points out that the four compartments on the head Tefilin correspond to the four senses that are located in the head - sight, hearing, smell and taste. We dedicate all these to serve the Almighty. The single box that is tied on the arm represents the sense of touch that we devote to perform G-d’s will.

A Sage said that each part of our body has a special unique function, with some parts having various functions. Observing one’s hand, one realizes that each finger has a specific function that can be associated with a particular sense. The thumb is often used to wipe one’s mouth (taste). The index finger, well er.. is associated with cleaning the nose (smell). The middle extended finger is associated with the sense of touch. The ring finger is used to rub one’s eyes (sight). The pinky is associated with the sense of hearing, since it is often the instrument used to clean out one’s ears.

By covering up our eyes with our hand during the recitation of the Shema declaration, we are committing all of our senses to do the will of the Almighty.

A fascinating connection between the hand and the Sh’ma is that the Gematria – numerical value of the Hebrew words that spell the names of each of the five fingers plus the Hebrew word hand, equals 1118 which is also the numerical value of the words in the declaration of, “Sh’ma Yisroel Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad!”

Maharil Diskin explains that when Yaacov saw that Yosef was alive and retained his holiness although he was the leader of Egypt, he came to the realization that all the difficulties that happened to him while Yosef was gone, were for a good purpose. He chose the prayer of Sh’ma as the best way to express his belief that all happenings are controlled and directed by the Almighty and that they are ultimately for the good.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks