In Parshat Vayechi, we see the outcome of Joseph’s and Jacob’s positive perception of events. They each realized how seemingly-bad experiences actually set into motion a trajectory of far-reaching goodness.

Joseph was able to transcend the anger that most would have felt towards his brothers. Likewise, Jacob had suffered for 22 years, not knowing his beloved son was alive. At their reunion, Jacob perceived a greater Divine plan meant to save his family from famine. The Midrash1 relates that during this moment of clarity, he spontaneously recited the Shema aloud. Finally, Jacob could comprehend the significance of everything he had endured. Overcome by emotion, his first response was to channel his great appreciation towards G‑d, the One who made it all so.

But why recite the Shema at this time?

The Shema declares that G‑d is one: “Hashem Echad.” The perception of oneness acknowledges G‑d’s oneness within seemingly fragmented pieces of our lives—that in truth, they are unified. Perhaps we cover our eyes when reciting these words to emphasize that things are not necessarily as they seem. For even what appears to be bad can hold unrevealed good.

G‑d promised Jacob that he would accompany him down to Egypt and bring him up again, “and Joseph will place his hand over your eyes.”2 The Zohar3 explains that the life story of Joseph—presumed dead but instead ruling over Egypt—would serve as a “hand over Jacob’s eyes,” enabling him to look away from what seemed bad and recognize that it was ultimately meant to develop into a greater good.

An Enduring Bond

In Vayechi, the final portion in the book of Genesis, we come to the end of the patriarchal era. At its apex, the continued belief of four generations coalesces. As Jacob’s 12 sons surround the patriarch’s deathbed, they, too, collectively say aloud: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad (“Hear O Israel, the L‑rd our G‑d, the L‑rd is One”).4

In unison, they professed their belief in the one G‑d of Israel. The unity of purpose expressed at this moment symbolizes their commitment to their father’s belief. Jacob was now assured that the belief entrusted to him by his father and grandfather had effectively been transmitted to the entire next generation. Although each of Jacob’s sons was different, their shared belief united them.

In our own lives, it is natural to become enveloped by the minutiae of our challenges. Awareness of the greater picture of which we are all a part, however, is essential. The words of the Shema remind us: Don’t allow the darkness of negative thought to overcome you. Strive to develop and maintain a positive perspective. View the events of your life as part of a far-reaching trajectory through which ultimate good will emerge.

Making It Relevant

  1. Identify events in your life that seemed to be negative but in retrospect had a positive impact on you or others.
  2. When you encounter a negative experience, try to view it within the context of a greater vantage point.
  3. Try reframing your life’s narratives from negative to positive, by revealing glimpses of good.
  4. Think about specific values, beliefs and rituals that you would want to transmit to the next generation. What are they?