Vayigash 5761

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayigash

This d’var Torah was originally distributed by Kolel: The Adult Center for Jewish Learning during the year 5761 and can be found in its archives.

VaYigash (Gen. 44:18-47:27)

OVERVIEW

At the end of last week’s parsha, Yosef conspires to accuse Binyamin, the youngest, of theft, and the brothers think that Binyamin will have to stay in Egypt to be Yosef’s servant. In one of the most moving stories of the entire Torah, this week’s parsha begins with Yehudah offering himself in place of Binyamin, so that Yaakov should not be bereft of his two youngest sons. Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, and the family is reunited under his protection in Egypt. Yosef settles his entire family, including his father, all his brothers, and their families, in Egypt, in the land of Goshen

IN FOCUS

“He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and afterwards his brothers talked with him.” (Genesis 45:15)

PSHAT

Yosef can no longer restrain himself, and ends the game he’s been playing with his brothers. Yosef reveals his true identity, and in a highly emotional scene, the brothers are reconciled to each other. One could argue that this is the dramatic climax of the entire book of Genesis, which portrays harsh conflict between brothers since the first brothers in the Garden of Eden.

DRASH

In North American society our image of masculinity is often the “hard man,” the “strong, silent type,” the tough leader who never displays weakness, emotion, or doubt. From John Wayne to the Marlboro Man to Pierre Trudeau to unforgiving corporate boardrooms, the stereotype of the “man in charge” (even if she’s a woman) doesn’t often include crying and expressing deep feelings.

At least one modern rabbinic commentator sees things differently. R. Zalman Sorotzkin, called the “Lutzker Rav,” (1881-1960), made the remarkable claim that Yosef merited his high position precisely 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 Vayehi. 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. (Quoted in Itturei Torah, translation and adaptation mine.)

Adding things up, we find that Yosef is described as crying no less than eight times in three Torah portions. We might also note that all these examples come from Yosef’s later years- crying seems to be something he learns with maturity. Personally, I find the comment that Yosef merited his position because of his ability to cry to be a welcome change from the typical idea of what makes a leader. The Lutzker Rav teaches us to look for empathy in our leaders- can they cry? Do they really “feel the pain” of others, or is it a show for political purposes?

The Lutzker Rav challenges not only our concept of leadership, but even of “manhood.” Yosef wasn’t the “strong, silent type” at all- or rather, he could be when the situation called for it, but he could also express his deepest feelings to those around him. He doesn’t seem self-conscious or embarrassed at all, crying in happiness and sadness equally.

Yosef cried when reunited with his family, and he cried when his father dies, and at the very end of the book of Genesis, he cried when he finds out that his brothers still feared that he might take revenge after Yaakov is buried. (Cf. Genesis 50.) His tears communicated in a way that goes beyond words, revealing the truth and depth of his connection to those he loved. Perhaps we might say that Yosef’s greatness was not only his political position, but his spiritual position, as a man of deep empathy, unafraid to show his emotional commitments.

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