Accepting the Yoke of Heaven
Taste of Talmud
A Mishna in Tractate Brachos 16a posits two seemingly contradictory statements. First, we are told that a chassan, bride groom, is exempt from the obligation to recite the shema on his wedding night. Then we are told that Rabban Gamliel recited the shema when he was a chassan. In response to his students’ query as to why he veered from the halacha, Rabban Gamliel makes an enigmatic statement. He says,”I will not listen to you to separate me from the yoke of Heaven for even one moment.” How does this explain his actions? Rav Chaim of Volozhin provides an answer that gives us a unique perspective on life. For most people, concentrating on davening requires an effort to separate their mind form mundane matters. Therefore a chassan, who is preoccupied with the mitzvah of getting married, is exempt from being distracted in order to recite the shema. However, there are righteous people who are constantly aware of G-d in all of their actions. For them reciting the shema does not constitute a separation from there usual frame of mind. As their natural state of existence is one of accepting the yoke of heaven, so for this person it is not a deviation to recite the shema it would be a deviation for them not to recite the shema! This is why for Rabban Gamliel it was appropriate to recite the shema. For him this was an extension of what his life was all about. “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”
Taste of Halacha
The shema must be recited before the end of the 3rd hour of the morning. This time is calculated by using shaos zmanios, variable hours. This means that the shema must be recited before one quarter of the day light hours have past. The question is, do you begin counting the three hours from dawn or sunrise? The Magen Avraham says that you start counting the three hours from dawn while the Vilna Gaon is of the opinion that the three hours begin from sunrise. The calculation of the Vilna Gaon gives us approximately 36 more minutes than if we would follow the Magen Avraham. However, the Mishna Berura concludes that we should never be in a situation where these 36 minutes would make a difference because ideally it is prohibited to delay at all! Rather one should always try to say the shema as early as possible and not delay.
Taste of Parasha
When Yaakov and Yosef meet for the first time after 22 long years of separation, they embrace. Rashi tells us that at that moment, although Yosef was crying, Yaakov was reciting the shema! The commentaries ask, if it was the time to recite the shema why was Yosef not reciting the shema? The Steipler Gaon, Rav Y. Y. Kanievsky Zt”l answers that it was not the time to recite the shema, so for Yosef the right thing to do at that moment was to express his love for his father in fulfillment of the mitzvah to honor ones’ father. Yaakov however did not have this mitzvah. For Yaakov this was a moment of tremendous salvation and joy. Rav Kanievsky Zt”l explains that it is the way of righteous men to use every opportunity of salvation and sublime happiness to immediately connect with G-d, express their love of G-d, praise Him and accept the yoke of Heaven, with happiness and love. This is why Yaakov took this opportunity to say the shema, not to fulfill his daily obligation to recite the shema, but as an expression of his love for G-d. May we all be blessed with salvation and happiness from our loving G-d.