Our Chazal tell us that when Yaakov meets Yosef for the first time after his disappearance for more than twenty years, he recited the Shemah Yisrael. What was the reason that Yaakov said the Shema at this particular long awaited and anticipated moment?
The passuk in Tehillim says that after Yosef overcame his test with the wife of Potifar, the letter ה was added to his name and he was calledיהוסף (Sotah 10b). This extra ה symbolized the second letter ה of Hashem’s name. Yosef by his incredible act of self control sanctified Hashem’s name. We would like to suggest another interpretation to this addition of the letter ה to his name.
Man was created with five senses: the sense of hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. Man’s mission is to control these senses and utilize them to enhance his spiritual state and his neshamahand not for the purpose of increased sensuality as an ends. Even in the English language the wordsense also refers to the intellect which is relevant to the neshamah since it is a manifestation ofneshamah.
This mission is hinted in the nameאדם having the first two letters of his name to be gematriah five, representing his five senses. It is broken down into one and four in an ascending order. The first sense of touch is situated in the lower extremity of the body which is primarily a hand function. The remaining four senses are situated in the upper part of the body in the head such as the sense of smell, sight, hearing, and taste. The letter ם of אדם represents the intellect the מח the place in where the neshamah resides. Man’s purpose in this world is to elevate the five senses to serve the spirit to the point that even the sensational pleasure of touch which is more bodily than the others can also be elevated. That is why the hands are the only limbs of the human body that can be elevated even higher than the head.
Sensuality involves all of one’s senses. Let us take for example the sense of taste. We find that the Kohen encourages the Sotah to admit her waywardness by saying that drinking wine is a catalyst to adultery. The sense of smell is another sense that plays a role in bodily pleasure. TheZohar writes that the prohibition of לא תנאף not to commit adultery can be read לא תהנה אף do not derive pleasure from fragrant smell of women. The perfume industry spends millions of dollars to flaunt its products with such immodest provocative names and labels as if they guarantee you sensual experiences. Woman misuse the sense of smell when they wear perfume to attract attention and recognition from another person besides their husband.
The word for sense is חוש which also stems from the root חש to worry. Our senses are something we have to be concerned about to ensure they are not misused. The word sensesshare the same pronunciation as census. This tells us that one needs to have a chesbon hanefesh from time to time to ensure they are in place and in order. חוש is the gematriah of שדי . The meaning of this name of Hashem, is interpreted by our Chazal to parallel its acronym שאמר לעולמו די. Hashem during creation said to the on going expansion of the world די, enough, stop. Man must learn to discipline his senses by putting reins on their expansion lest they be channeled into the wrong direction. Man is known as an עולם קטן a small universe. He too like his creator must learn to say די to his sense expansion into inappropriate places. If he is successful, then the two letters of די transform into one called the letter ה by taking the letter yud and placing it at the lower left corner of the dalet. By doing so he has connected himself to the second ה found in Hashem’s name.
Yosef by overcoming his strong yetzer harawith Potifar’s wife earned himself the extra letterה to be placed in his name in order to demonstrate that he connected to the letter ה gematriah five, found in Hashem’s name by acquiring mastery over his five senses.
In order to fully accept upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, one must be willing to subjugate his five senses to the will of his creator. Only then can he truly testify that Hashem is אחד. The letters of אד in the word echad symbolize the five senses as they are gematriah five. The letterches in echad symbolizes the source of חיות and life of the senses which is the intellect which is a manifestation of neshamah. Therefore, the wordsאדם and אחד share a similar meaning in their word makeup in that they both demonstrate that through the subjugation of the five sensesאדם becomes אחד with Hashem and thereby testifies to His achdus.
With this understanding we can add a newkavvanah in the recital of Shemah. The Halacha says (Orach Chaim 61,5,17) that when saying theShema one should place his right hand over his face. The mefarshim explain that the statement of placing the hand on the face is not exact, for it really means over the eyes. The Tur however learns that it means to be taken literally over the face. If the placing of the hand was for the purpose of only having more kavannah, then merely closing one’s eyes would be sufficient just as we find while davening Shemoneh Esrai? The Tur especially needs a different explanation for covering one’s face than the one given to us from the Mechaber which is to increase one’s kavanah.
Therefore we would like to suggest that the reason for covering one’s face during the recital ofShemah is to subjugate all five senses to Hashem. The Rabbeinu Bachya writes (Parshas Tzav 8,23) that the five fingers of the hand correlate to the five senses through which the kochos hanefeshwithin a person are revealed. Each finger serves its parallel sense in a very obvious way. The thumb naturally serves to clean out the mouth, in which the sense of taste resides. Note, that from infancy, babies suck their thumbs. The second finger naturally serves the nose to clean out the nostrils. The third finger which is the longest, serves the sense of touch. The fourth finger is used to clean the eyes and the fifth the pinky is naturally used to clean the ears. Even though we never think of our fingers functioning in this manner each one to their specific senses, the unconscious reality of it is just mind blowing.
This is why the Halacha requires that one should place his hand over his face while he recites the Shema. It is not so much his hand specifically, and it is not for the purpose ofkavvannah alone. It is rather the hand’s five fingers that symbolize the five senses. By accepting the yoke of Shamayim we are subjugating our senses to Hashem’s calling. It is the head that manifests the dwelling of the neshama within man, for the face is the window of the soul. As the sefarim write that the word panimwhich translates as face also share the same letters as penim which means inside. Placing one’s hand over one’s face when reciting the Shema is for the purpose of making one aware that controlling one’s senses and making them obedient to a higher power other than themselves, creates the אדם who is אחד testifying that Hashem is אחד. If one has lost the reins of his senses and he is in a free fall mode of pleasure to see what is inappropriate for the neshama, to hear what he shouldn’t, to touch that which is not allowed to touch, to partake from fragrances that arouses indecent thoughts, and to taste what is forbidden that cool off his passion for Hashem and Torah, then he is unable to truly accept the yoke of heaven upon himself.
Now the name of Hashem שדי takes on an even deeper meaning. The letters די also spell יד hand. By realizing the five fingers that are attached to one’s hand he has the power to nullify his five senses to their correct usages.
When Yaakov was afraid to go down to Mitzrayim for fear of the deep tumah that existed there in the form of חטא עריות Hashem eased his anxiety by saying יוסף ישית ידו על עיניך (Bereishis 46,4) that Yosef will place his hands over your eyes. The Zohar learns that this is referring to the recital of Shema Yisrael when we place our right hand over our eyes. According to our mamar the Zohar means to say that Hashem told Yaakov that he doesn’t have to worry about being effected from the חטא עריות and immorality since Yosef in his avodah and mesiras nefesh brought about a tikkun and shemirah in this area by fleeing from the seduction of the wife of Potifar.
As we explained above, this aveirah included all five senses each one with a very strong pull. Yaakov should not worry of falling from hismadraiga of kedushas Shabbos as indicated by the gematriah of חטא עריות which equals בשבת. This gematriah teaches that Yaakov was not affected by חטא עריות since he possessed thekedusha of Shabbos which protected him (see introduction to the Eglei Tal). However, inMitzrayim Yaakov was afraid of tainting his lofty level of kedusha since Mitzrayim was the country known for arayos. Nevertheless, Hashem still told Yaakov not to be afraid since Yosef will put his hand over his eyes which is symbolic to theShema recital. Yaakov in this statement is being told that Yosef’s five fingers are protecting him from falling from his madraigah of kedusha and ה’ אחד.
When Yaakov meets Yosef for the first time he saw on Yosef’s face a living and walking Shemah Yisrael, Hashem Echad. He understood that Yosef’s shine was a product from how he controlled the mastery over his senses and how he inducted them into the service of Hashem. Seeing the glow on Yosef’s countenance aroused within Yaakov the ratzon to mirror the parallel acceptance of Ohl Malchus Shamayim. He therefore read the Shemah to actualize his ratzon.
The gematriah of the acronym of the five senses ראיה שמיעה ריח נגיעה טעם is 759. The gematriah of יום שבת including the kollel also equals 759. This teaches us that on the holy day of Shabbos one has the ability to succeed in accepting true Ol Malchus Shamayim thereby enabling one to experience that reality. The Navi says ביום ההוא יהיה ה’ אחד that when Moshiach will come then we will recognize Hashem asechad. Yet on Shabbos we say that we acknowledge Hashem as echad right now. (see Lecho Dodi ה’ אחד ושמו אחד, Shemoneh Esrai of Shabbos Mincha אתה אחד ושמך אחד). Shabbos gives us the gift to be able to discipline our bodies and our five senses channeling their attributes and virtues into the service of Hashem.
In Tehillim (16,8) it is written שויתי ה’ לנגדי תמיד ממיני לא אמוט. I have the image of Hashem in front of me always, from my right hand I will not falter. In order for one to imagine Hashem’s presence in front of him one must be in control of his senses. Therefore, on the day of Shabbos when our bodies are disciplined, one can fulfillשויתי ה’. The gematriah of שויתי הויה with its nine letters equals 761 the same as ביום שבת (including the kollel). However, during the week one can nevertheless fulfill שויתי ה’ when he recites theShemah, for during this time one also accepts the yoke of taking control over his senses. Dovid Hamelech alludes to this Kabbalas Ohl in the samepassuk by saying מימיני בל אמוט. By using my right hand with its five fingers to cover my face and recite the Shema, I dedicate myself to properly direct my senses to only appropriate experiences in order that I should not falter during my every day conduct.