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Yosef’s Journey of Tears to Emotional Openness

In this week’s parsha, the riveting story of Yosef Hatzadik reaches its climax as Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers with the famous words, “Ani Yosef, haod avi chai.” To fully appreciate what transpired in this incredible moment, let us take a step back and address a question that must bother anyone learning the story of Yosef.

How is it that Yosef did not contact his father and family once he became the viceroy of Egypt? How could he not try to make contact to stop the suffering that Yaakov had experienced for the 22 years he was separated from Yosef and thought he had died?

Many meforshim address this issue. I would like to suggest an approach that can shed light not only on why Yosef did not contact his home but can also give us a powerful insight into the inner world of Yosef Hatzadik and the amazing transformation he underwent as described in Miketz and Vayigash.

Perhaps Yosef was so hurt by what happened in his father’s house that he wished to forget his family and escape to his new life in Egypt. In his house, Yosef, although loved by his father, was all too aware of his brother’s hatred toward him. A hatred that culminated in the terrible crime of kidnapping and almost murder. Yosef was deeply hurt by that trauma. And now, after years of pain and suffering due to the alienation he felt at home, he had finally achieved success. He built a new life for himself, found a wife, had children and achieved unthinkable power. He thought he finally found his true place and identity and was very happy to bury his connection to his family deep in his heart and start a new life free of the previous pain of his home. This suggestion is strongly supported by the startling name Yosef gave his first child, Menashe. The Torah explains that name to mean “thank You, Hashem for helping me forget my father’s home and all the pain it brought me.” It seems that at this point Yosef had closed his heart to his family, was very satisfied with his known position and identity, and never planned on being in touch with his family ever again. It wasn’t until his life was turned upside-down by the visit of his brothers that his heart was wrenched open and he was forced to confront the deepest truths of his heart. In fact, it was this process that allowed Yosef to return and take his place in klal Yisrael.

Let us take a closer look at the process. A process that can be traced through the progression of Yosef’s tears.

 

The First Time Yosef Cries

When Yosef first meets his brothers, he seems very calculated. He recognizes them and they don’t recognize him, and he decides to take advantage of that. We are not sure of his true motives, but he seems to have a plan and to be in full control of the situation. But all that begins to change when he overhears Reuven’s speech to his brothers that attributes their misfortune in Egypt to their insensitivity to their long-lost brother’s pleas. Yosef, who for years had closed his heart to his family and thought he had moved on, is suddenly and unexpectedly deeply touched by his brother’s words. He begins to realize that although he has spent the last 22 years trying to forget, his brothers have spent the last 22 years unable to forget. The Torah describes וַיִּסֹּ֥ב מֵֽעֲלֵיהֶ֖ם וַיֵּ֑בְךְּ, he turns away and he cries. As his heart is slowly and painstakingly being wrenched open, he loses control of his emotions and is forced to turn away from his brothers to hide his tears. This is the first time Yosef is forced to cry against all his expectations. In this instance, despite the unexpected emotion, Yosef manages to hide the burst of emotion and carries on with his conversation with his brothers. But as he will learn, his journey of tears has just begun. For despite his best efforts to bury his family connections, his deeper inner true self is just beginning to emerge. And as he witnesses his brothers’ remorse, Yosef himself begins to change…

 

The Second Set of Tears

Yosef is again ambushed by his emotions when he finally encounters Binyamin, Bereishit (43:30): “…and Yosef ran out of the room for his heart was bursting with care and love for all his brothers and he needed to cry, and he went to the next room and burst out crying, and he then washed his face and got control of himself and ordered the servants to serve a meal…”

Although the emotion was triggered by seeing Binyamin, it was directed at all of his brothers. Rashi quotes an amazingly powerful Midrash that tells us a bit more about what triggered this uncontrollable outburst of emotion by Yosef.

The Midrash says that when Yosef met Binyamin, he asked Binyamin if he has any other brothers from the same mother? Binyamin answered yes, he does, but he does not know where he is. Yosef continues to ask Binyamin if he has any children? Binyamin answers him that he has 10. Yosef then asks him what the names of the sons are and when he is told the rather strange names, Yosef asks Binyamin, why did you choose such strange names. It is Binyamin’s answer that ultimately forces Yosef to again lose control. Binyamin proceeds to tell him, one by one, how each of the 10 names was chosen to commemorate a different aspect of the pain and suffering and tragedy that his older brother Yosef must have experienced.

One can only imagine what is swelling up in Yosef’s heart as he hears 10 straight times the love and sensitivity Binyamin has been expressing for these past 22 years through his children’s names, especially as it contrasts to the name Menashe that Yosef chose for his own son. Yosef suddenly realizes that while he has spent the last 22 years trying to forget, his family has spent the last 22 years trying to remember.

This time Yosef’s crying is too intense to hide. He can’t just turn away and wipe his tears; he is forced to rush out of the room in what must have been a rather awkward scene. And in one of the most touching and relatable human details mentioned in the Torah, the Torah describes how he is forced to wash his face before reappearing before his brothers. This is the second episode of Yosef’s tears we encounter. One can already feel how Yosef’s heart is opening to his true feelings. He makes it out of the room before he bursts into tears. But this is the last time he will be able to maintain his false posture. The next time he cries his transformation will be complete.

 

The Final Tears of Emotional Openness

Yosef’s transformation is completed in this week’s parsha. Yosef witnesses Yehuda’s impassioned speech of care for Yaakov, his father, and his refusal to abandon Binyamin, the same Yehuda who years ago in cold blood had led the charge to sell him to the Egyptians! This is the final step of Yosef’s emotional journey. After Yosef witnessed Yehuda’s transformation, he can no longer keep up the masquerade and hold in his tears…this time he can’t even make it to the next room and he bursts out crying in front of his brothers, saying the most honest words he has uttered in 22 years

“Ani Yosef ha’ od avi chai!” The real me is Yosef and all I really cared about for the last 22 years was about my father and my family.

Yosef’s journey of tears allowed him to open his heart, forgive his brothers and reconnect with his truest self. He didn’t do it alone. For it was the brothers’ teshuva and transformation that allowed Yosef to open his heart to his truest self and to forgive them.

 

Learning From Yosef: Our Mission

Staying emotionally open despite hurts and disappointments that might have caused us pain is one of the greatest and most important challenges we face in our lives. Hashem gave us all delicate and beautiful hearts. All too often we close our hearts to others and even to ourselves because of the pain we might have experienced. But that is a tragedy. For there is no greater gift and responsibility than to live with emotional openness to others, to Hashem and to ourselves. May we learn from Yosef’s tearful journey to do our best to keep our delicate and beautiful hearts open so that we can give and receive to our highest potential throughout our lives.


Rabbi Scheinfeld is an educator and ski instructor and is the founder and director of Camp Kanfei and Camp Bnos Kanfei, adventure summer travel camps for teens.

He can be reached at:[email protected].

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