Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)5780-2020 Sweat

Ad Vingerhoets is a professor of psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The thing that makes him unique is that he is an expert on crying and has spent over twenty years “studying when and why we cry, and how the study of crying may help us obtain better insight into human nature.” According to Vingerhoets, “the key antecedents to crying are helplessness, hopelessness, and the lack of adequate behavioral responses to a problem situation.” Even when our tears are tears of joy, Vingerhoets believes that we cry either because we evoke memories of times that were not as good or because we feel helpless in expressing our true emotions. Is there a Jewish approach to crying? Assuming there is, does Vingerhoets’ thesis support or contradict it?Our Parsha begins with the dramatic confrontation between two brothers, one of whom doesn’t know that the Viceroy to whom he is speaking is his brother. Joseph (the Viceroy) has framed the brothers and has taken Binyamin, the youngest brother (and Joseph’s only brother from the same mother, Rachael) as a slave. Yehuda, on behalf of his father and brothers, takes the mantle of leadership and boldly confronts the powerful Viceroy, who, unbeknownst to him, is actually his brother. When Yehuda presents his claim to Joseph as to why Binyamin should be freed, the Torah statesNow Joseph could no longer hold back (his emotions) in front of all those (Egyptians) standing beside him, and he said, “Take everyone away from me!” Thus, no one was with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.   And he wept out loud; the Egyptians heard, as did the house of Pharaoh. (Gen. 45:1,2). Ohr HaChaim (1696-1743) comments that Joseph was having trouble holding back his tears and wanted to clear the room before becoming overly emotional.What was the underlying cause of his tears? Professor Vingerhoets would have to explain that Joseph’s tears were simply a function of his helplessness or because he couldn’t figure out how to express his emotions. But our tradition seems to provide another cause for crying. When we think about the ancient words Pour out your heart like water (Lamentations 2:13) or the Talmudic dictum that the gates of tears are never closed, the idea is not a charge for us to feel helpless, to the contrary, it’s supposed to be a motivator. When one realizes that tears emanating from pureness, remorse or sincere desire to repair a relationship are always welcome and accepted, (s)he will realize the unspoken power of tears.Shem MiShmuel, an eight volume Torah commentary written by one of the great Chassidic thinkers in the first quarter of the 20th century, explains that tears represent our purest thoughts. They are a testament to the sincerity of our expressions. We should be so sensitive to truth that it should actually move us emotionally-and even evoke tears. Joseph had not yet revealed his true identity; as long as he kept this secret, he was able to be emotionless (with the exception of when he first encountered Binyamin). From the moment he could no longer maintain this falsehood, he had to confront the truth and the emotions resulting from that confrontation. When that moment had come, there was just barely enough time to clear the room before he broke out into tears.Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Rubinstein was a distinguished Lithuanian rabbi in Chicago in the first part of the 20thcentury. He visited the Israel in the 1930’s. Upon his return to Chicago he was asked by one of his congregants whether the pioneers who were farming the land wore yarmulkes on their heads while working. He replied, “When I saw the Land of Israel being tilled by Jewish farmers after two thousand years of exile, my eyes welled with tears. I therefore was unable to see clearly what was worn on the heads of those farmers.” This new realty was the catalyst of tears in their purest form. Tears of hope can erase scenes of trials and tribulations from our vision, as well as scenes of failures and weaknesses. Joseph’s tears ultimately blur the sight of his brothers in a bad and adversarial light and allow him to see them as brothers who made a mistake and have paid in full. His tears are not the product of helplessness, they are the medium of compromise, harmony and reconciliation. Truth evokes tears, and tears can they can be the harbingers of hope and accomplishment if we allow them to.A wise man once observed that tears are the sweat of the soul. May we all sweat profusely. Good Shabbos(Source: Shem M’Shmuel, Shlach 5676 p. 231; Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Rubinstein was the grandfather of Rabbi Berel Wein, who is the source of the story above.)
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center