O Brother, Why Art Thou Crying?: Vayigash 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: In a famous speech prior to his untimely death, college basketball coach Jim Valvano said that people should do three things every day: think, laugh, and allow oneself to be moved to tears. Do you think crying is as essential as thinking and laughing? What does crying say about the depths of our emotions?

In the Torah portion of Vayigash, Joseph’s announcement of his true identity leads to a roomful of tears:

The Pitch: “With that [Joseph] embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.” – Genesis 45:14

Swing #1: “Why should the two brothers have wept at this hour of rejoicing, and why should each have wept over the other’s misfortune rather than over his own? Because they were both aware of the tragic consequences of hatred without just cause. We know that it was this evil of causeless hatred that brought about the destruction of the two Holy Temples of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Benjamin were reunited, they recalled that their separation had come about because of the causeless hatred of their brothers. Being endowed with prophetic vision, the two men thought of the calamities which would befall their descendants in days to come because of the same sin that had caused their own distress, and therefore they both wept.” – The Rabbi of Kazmir

Swing #2: “And just as Esau fell upon the neck of Jacob, embracing and weeping with him at the moment of their encounter near Mahanaim, so now Joseph embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and kissed his other siblings and wept with them. Like Esau, Joseph initiated the reconciliation and only then could his brothers summon the strength to speak to him. The same brothers who slandered him to their father and could not speak a friendly word to him, now shared words of love and affection. They, indeed, had finally come close to one another again; the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah were united as they never had been before. And unlike Jacob and Esau before them, who though they were able to meet and establish some relationship, were unable to remain together, Jacob’s sons were truly reunited.” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change

Swing #3: “Careful readers – and, no doubt, the observant brothers –  notice the asymmetry of his approach to Benjamin and his approach to them. The difference is perfectly understandable: Joseph has many reasons for loving Benjamin more than the others. But it is a difference nonetheless, and it carries significance for future family relations. The difference in Joseph’s conduct is reciprocated in the brothers’ responses: Benjamin weeps upon Joseph’s neck as Joseph weeps upon his; Joseph kisses and weeps upon his other brothers, but in response, they merely talk to him (though we are not told anything that they said). Despite his emotional frankness, Joseph leaves the brothers wary and disunited, even in this peak moment of reunion and reconciliation.” – Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

Late-Inning Questions: Do you believe that this episode of crying reflects newfound unity between Joseph and his brothers? Or, is it a sign of continued alienation? Why does crying enable our true emotions to come to the surface? Does one need to cry to express emotions effectively?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us for follow-up discussions of “Where Do We Go From Here?” We want to hear YOUR voices to hear how our congregation can make a difference in a changed America. They will take place Wednesdays, January 11th & 18th, at 7:00PM. Sessions will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

The Big Inning at the End: In the Bible, the number 40 is associated with displacement (40 days of the flood and Noah’s Ark, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, etc.). Now that there are only 40 days until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, our displacement will soon be a thing of the past …

Shabbat Shalom!