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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash: Prayer – A Heart Stopping Reunion

Submitted by on December 5, 2010 – 3:38 amNo Comment | 6,350 views

The Spiritualist and the Pragmatist

We often talk of G-d. To describe our relationship we employ metaphors, such as husband or father that are inspiring to some and off-putting to others. For every person, who responds to the spiritual abstraction of this relationship, there are others that are left unmoved. They prefer to avoid fantastical, feel good talk about ethereal relationships and talk instead about real life.

Who is right, the spiritualist or the pragmatist? I think the answer is both; each, in their own time.

Transcending the banalities of materialism and being drawn to G-dliness is spiritually exhilarating. The sheer joy and sublime inspiration of such meditation is breath taking. It beckons, it absorbs and uplifts, but it does not pay the bills.

G-d did not place us on this earth to soar with the angels. The celestial sphere is for angels; for us it is the pragmatic toil of daily life. Facing our challenges and overcoming the hurdles, embracing our dilemmas and finding solutions, knowing temptation, but maintaining ethical resolve, these are the reasons G-d placed us on earth.

To fulfill the purpose of our creation we need to focus on life’s real issues. We cannot escape into the comforting cocoon of spiritual contemplation and divorce ourselves from our reality. The temple on the mountain is a peaceful place, but sacred serenity will not accomplish what we were sent here to do.

Yet we cannot live without it either. As much as we cannot divorce ourselves from life, we also cannot divorce ourselves from our intimate relationship with G-d. We cannot bring order to chaos and holiness to the mundane with our heads stuck in the sand. We need to be cognizant of our link with G-d to bring His sanctity to the world; to be a light unto the nations.

The Hover

It is a catch 22. We cannot let go of G-d and still be connected, but we cannot let go of physical reality and still be effective on this plane. It is our role to hover forever between the two; never comfortable in one, but unable to wrest ourselves from either. We live for a moment in this world and feel our connection with G-d lessening. We leap right back into the spiritual cocoon to reestablish our link with the Divine. We emerge from that place because in it we lose focus on our mission in life, but then return and run right back to where we came from. It is a never ending cycle that feeds and perpetuates itself.

This is why we pray. Three times each day we pull away from the chatter of life and refocus on our connection with G-d.a heart stopping reunion - innerstream This is when the pragmatist becomes a spiritualist. We remain in this cocoon for a while, but ultimately leave again to reengage the pragmatic reality of life and this is when the spiritualist becomes a pragmatist. The cycle continues to oscillate; the key to its success is to turn prayer into an authentic spiritual experience; a virtual reunion with G-d.

Jasob’s Prayer

This helps me understand an otherwise difficult passage with which I have struggled all my life.

When Jacob arrived to Egypt he encountered his son Joseph for the first time in twenty-two years. Joseph ran to embrace his father, but Jacob did not respond. Our sages explained that Jacob was busy at that time chanting the Shema prayer. (1)

Let’s be honest: It had been twenty-two years since Jacob had last seen Joseph, could he not receive his son with searing passion and a loving embrace and find another time to recite the Shema?

Perhaps the answer is best illustrated through the following story.

The Illiterate Son

An illiterate villager asked the librarian to read a telegram for him. The librarian opened the envelope and calmly read, “at long last, your father is due to arrive tomorrow.” The villager began to dance with joy while the librarian looked on with equanimity.

Imagine yourself seated thirty feet away watching the exchange. You conclude that the letter contained exhilarating news, but you don’t understand. If the letter’s content was so joyful why did it not affect the librarian? The one, who read the letter upfront, remained unaffected and the one listening from afar was overwhelmed! Why is that?

The answer is that the librarian read about a stranger whereas the villager heard about his own father. Now let me ask you this. What do you think might happen if the librarian suddenly looked up to discover that she just read the letter for her own brother and that her own father had sent it? The letter would suddenly come to life for her. She would likely match her brother’s glee and join in his celebration.

Reunions with long lost family members are not common and when they occur they are laden with emotion. However, reunions with our father in heaven occur every time we pray, when we turn from our engagements and preoccupations and focus on G-d. Why don’t we experience the same intensity?

Perhaps it is because we, like the librarian, feel that we are reading about a stranger; someone else’s father. Spiritualists, meditators and perhaps a few loony bins think of G-d as their father, but to me He is an abstraction; someone else’s relation, certainly not mine. If we were to look up and notice that we are talking to and about our own father, our prayers would suddenly come to life. What would previously have been a meaningless mumbling of words would now become a stupendous joy and a heart stopping reunion. We would feel precisely what Joseph felt when he was reunited with his father, Jacob.

This is perhaps why Jacob chose to chant the Shema at the moment of his reunion with Joseph. Approaching his son for the first time in twenty-two years Jacob’s heart was certainly pounding with an overwhelming sensation he had never experienced before and would likely never experience again. This, he felt, was how we should feel every time we encounter G-d in prayer. G-d is far more distant to us than Joseph was to Jacob. Jacob got to Joseph in several days of travel, but we can never reach G-d no matter how hard we try. Yet when we pray we encounter Him.

This was Jacob’s message to us. He chanted the Shema at the moment of his exhilaration, channeling his deep felt emotion into prayer. With this he set an example for us all, demonstrating that prayer is a reunion and ought to be experienced every time with the fullness of emotion that coursed through Jacob and Joseph at that moment.

When we experience a true reunion in prayer we can return to the pragmatic world with a real sense of mission.


  1. Genesis 46: 29 and Rashi ibid.

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