Parashat Vayigash 5779

Rabbi Charley Baginsky – 14 December 2018

Over dinner the other night my daughter Eliana said: “It so odd that we can only see the world through our own eyes”… It is true of course that most of us have been preoccupied at one time or another by the idea that the commentary on the world is perpetuated by our own voice in our head.

The novelist Mary McCarthy said that “we are the hero of our own story.” But today is also the story of Joseph. It is the longest unbroken narrative in the entire Torah, Genesis 37 to chapter 50, and there can be no doubt that the hero is Joseph. The story starts with him and ends with him. We see him in the beginning as a child, orphaned by his mother, the favourite of his father, hated by his brothers – a dreamer, a slave, a prisoner and finally the second most powerful man in Egypt. We get to know him intimately, far better than any other character in the Torah.

Joseph’s life seems to cover the span for human experience and emotion. As a young teen he seems arrogant, flaunting his dreams to his father and brothers, pointing out to them that he believes one day he will rule over them. Indeed, one Midrash tells us that how much time he use to spend fixing his hair and grooming, it describes it in such detail that it is evident he was spoiled and vain. It is not until later in the portion that we begin to see the hero beneath the pompous exterior. The amount he has changed is evidenced by the fact that while he recognises his brothers they do not recognise him.

But there is a particularly fascinating aspect to this personality, Joseph is a crier. Joseph is unique in the Torah in that he is depicted crying four times in the Bible and a fifth time in the Midrash. However, he does not cry in his moments of despair and crisis – of which there are many but rather in his moments of revelation and reunion. For example we read: “And Joseph could not restrain himself before all who were standing near him;… and nobody stood with him when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. And he lifted his voice in crying…” Then later as he embraces each of his brothers. But perhaps the most poignant moment comes when Jacob and Joseph are reunited after twenty two years, during which the father had assumed his son was dead: “And Joseph went up to greet Israel in Goshen; and he was seen by him, and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck”. Naturally, he also weeps as Jacob dies and is buried.

Rav Soloveitchik – a famous Jewish thinker, said that tears well up from the deepest and frankest recesses of human emotion and express genuine feelings that the individual himself is sometimes unaware that he possess.

“Big boys don’t cry” might be the famous lyrics of the song, but with Joseph the opposite is true, when he was a young man we never saw his vulnerability, even at the bottom of the pit, but as an adult man in the arms of his father he lets himself go and the tears fall.

R. Zalman Sorotzkin, says that Joseph warrants his high position because he was able to cry:

    We should note that Yosef was a man of tears. [Literally, a ba’al bechi, a “master of crying.”] We find that Yosef cried in parashat Miketz… and in this parsha. . . and in parashat Vayechi. The one who cries in bad times will also be able to cry in times of calm or achievement. The brothers, who had never suffered in their lives, could not cry even when their situation called for tears. Because Yosef could cry even for the troubles of others he merited greatness.

Joseph teaches us how to be an adult. That leaders need to be empathetic and to feel the pain of others and most importantly be able to show it. Joseph could be strong and silent when the situation demanded it, but he could also express his deepest feelings to those around him – he was not self conscious or embarrassed. It is perhaps a lesson many of us need to heed and practice.

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