From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
In the weekly Parasha we witness the meeting between Yaakov and Yoseph. His son born to him in old age, whom he loved more than his brothers, after twenty-two years, during which he thought that “My Yoseph has been torn to pieces” (Bereishit 37:33, whilst refusing to be consoled, and when he was informed that Yoseph was alive he immediately hurried to descend to Egypt to meet his beloved son Yoseph.
It is stated in the Parasha: “Yoseph [personally] harnessed his chariot, and went to greet his father Yisrael in Goshen. He presented himself to [his farther], and threw himself on his shoulders, weeping on his shoulders for a long time” (Bereishit 46:29).
Rashi HaKadosh quotes in his commentary the Midrash: “But Yaakov did not fall on Yoseph’s neck, and our teachers say because he was reciting the Shema”.
In the work Birchat Peretz, he brings the questions that if at the time of the meeting with Yoseph it was time to recite the Shema, then why didn’t Yoseph read the Shema? And if we are to say that the time for reciting the Shema hadn’t arrived, then what caused Yaakov his father to recite the Shema precisely at this time?
He answers that in fact at that moment that he met Yoseph, the time to recite the Shema hadn’t arrived, but Yaakov decided to recite the Shema precisely then “for it is the way of the righteous, at a time that they have a great salvation and great simcha that they immediately channel this to their love of Hashem Yitbarach, who was gracious to them giving them this kindness”. Therefore, at this great time of a father’s joy meeting his beloved son, after twenty-two years, Yaakov pauses for a moment, reads the Shema and designates his joy to accepting the yoke of Heaven.
It is known that such practice is totally contrary to the way of the world. For as a rule, a person who is engaged in his personal joy, feels too preoccupied, to the extent that our Chachamim exempted him from the Shema. As we learnt in Talmud Berachot [16a] “a groom is exempt from Shema”, since he is preoccupied with his simcha. But these completely righteous people [are exceptional], on the contrary, as soon as they are at the pinnacle of their simcha, they stand still and recite the Shema and channel their personal joy to their love of Hashem Yitbarach.
[In the same vein], the following story is related about the Gaon the author of the work Chatam Sofer [Rabbi Moshe Schreiber z”l 1762-1839], who lived in Pressburg. There was a very wealthy merchant, who commensurate with his great wealth was his great miserliness. To receive from him even a small amount of tzedakah was harder than the splitting of the Reed Sea!
One day, his luck turned for the worse, and the wealthy man’s finances deteriorated until he became destitute. Not a single person from the city was prepared to assist him, for they all remembered his miserliness from his wealthy days.
In his distress, he turned to the Gaon the Chatam Sofer and sought his help, to receive a loan, until he will be able to repay the rav.
The rav listened his request and said, indeed I wish to assist, however, at this moment I do not have even a single coin, however I am prepared to give you the silver candle sticks in my home. Go and sell them! Take the money in lieu of a loan until you turn a profit!
The merchant rejoiced, he sold the rav’s silverware and with the money he received he engaged in commerce until his was successful in business and gradually regained his original wealth.
The merchant came to the rav’s house, who at that time was studying with his pupils. The wealthy man turned to the rav, and thanked him for his assistance and returned the loan to him. But he immediately added that since the rav had helped him and saved him and his family from the pangs of hunger “I have brought the rav a gift, a precious box and in it a gold ring set with a precious stone”.
The rav took the ring set with the precious stone and examined it against the natural light by the window and said: “What a wonderful stone! Clearly the work of a true artisan! Certainly of great value!” And he continued to utter words of admiration in front of the merchant and his pupils.
The rav’s pupils saw his admiration for the golden ring and the stone set therein and his great joy at receiving the valuable gift. They began whispering to one another “But [surely] this is [considered within the prohibition of] interest!” How could the rav allow himself to accept something that is [within the prohibition of] of interest as prescribed by the Torah! (Since the rav had given the merchant a loan, it is forbidden to receive in return of the loan any additional money.)
In the meantime, the rav continued to admire, and the more he admired the more the student whispered amongst themselves.
Suddenly the rav turned his attention to his pupils and said: “Hashem gave me the precious stone; indeed it is beautiful, and its value extremely great, but this is interest, which is forbidden by the Torah, I will fulfil the mitzva and return it, and should I not rejoice in that”.
The rav explained, when there is an opportunity to fulfil the mitzva of [not taking] interest, if I would immediately not take the gift, how would I be expressing the fulfilment of this mitzva. But when I admired it a lot and there was a great joy in receiving the gift, but that joy was channelled not to accept the gift, then through that I will [truly] fulfil the mitzva that it is forbidden to accept interest!