December 28, 2006
For Cryin’ Out Loud
Parshat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)
Well put. In fact, Joseph does not simply cry -- he weeps. A lot! "Aloud [so] that all of Egypt and the house of Paro heard."
He turns on the waterworks upon revealing his identity to his brothers (who had attempted to kill him last he saw them). Later his tears stream down his maternal brother Benjamin's neck, then on the rest of their necks, and then on his father's neck. Yup, Joey's a bawler with a seemingly strange affinity for necks.
Indeed, this is peculiar behavior. I mean, guys aren't supposed to cry, right? They're supposed to be stoic, autonomous, aggressive. Babies cry. Women cry (5.3 times more often than men -- statistics say). For women, weeping in front of each other demonstrates trust. Conversely, while men might feel like sniveling as often as women, actually doing so exhibits weakness -- especially in front of other men (research indicates that displaying such emotions communicates an easy target for attack; hence, men rarely cry in public).
The mere fact that Joseph felt so free to blubber is unmanly. But to do so repeatedly, publicly, in front of men already guilty of attacking him, and with an emotionally demented father having raised him? (Remember, Jacob is the guy that tricked his own father into a birthright without displaying any remorse, and later responded to news that his daughter had been raped and kidnapped without so much as a whimper.) It's just weird!
Across time and in every society, the fact remains: Men don't cry much. Get angry? Forceful? Absolutely. But tears and neck nuzzling are displays of vulnerability that have no place in definitively masculine behavior.
Yet, Vayigash narrates the triumph of a man clearly in touch with his feminine side over his family's preoccupation with manliness, and in so doing, cleans up a whole bunch of karma -- more aptly described within our faith as tikkun and teshuvah; mainstream Jewish ideas of "what comes around goes around" are not as much connected with reincarnation as with inheritance, and the notion of a soul needing to clean up consequences from past sins is recognized through family lineage.
Exodus 20:5-6 states: "I ... your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children...." In Judaism, the sins of fathers are acceded to their sons, who must repair those transgressions through their own lives and return the long shadow of their souls to the light.
Applying this idea to Vayigash, it is interesting to note that the word "father" is repeated 38 times! It seems that Joseph has the responsibility of repairing his old man's mistakes -- by expressing emotions while Jacob could not, by embracing his own frailty while Jacob envied his brother's physical strength, by prevailing over his siblings' jealous and covert attempts to diminish him while Jacob got away with it. Joseph redeems his father's transgressions.
While Jacob had to physically wrestle with, and triumph over, the archetype of man in the darkness to redeem esteem in his own physical strength, his son's power came by passively allowing other men to exhibit dominance over him, lifting him out of a well of darkness in order that he help them from their own shadows by shedding light on their dreams.
Whereas Jacob concealed himself under a garment of fur so that his blind father would not recognize his lack of hair/masculinity, Joseph proudly sported his father's gift of a multicolored coat -- dazzling to the eye, but not terribly macho. As Jacob's brother raged at him for stealing the favoritism to which he was entitled, Joseph's brothers raged at him for receiving the favoritism to which they were entitled; while Jacob waited until his blind, dying father could only use his hands for recognition and concealed his identity before him, Joseph revealed his identity to his father before he died and "put his hand over his eyes" (Genesis 46:4).
Joseph wept because his faithful embrace of the trials and seeming betrayals presented during his life had returned him, with his family, to wholeness. He shed tears for all the men that get angry when they want to cry and all the women who cry when they are angry. He sobbed for those that confuse vulnerability with weakness, and in so doing demonstrated the power that comes from full exposure, freedom from resistance, depth of experience, and the capacity to respond with presence and authenticity -- as all great and charismatic people do. He cried out his release from the past in forgiveness and understanding that it all had to be as it was, and in joy for the gift of reuniting in love.
Weeping is underrated. It is the expression of intense and inspiring moments of all colors. We can only laugh when things are funny, but we can cry from grief, joy, love, despair. In our doing so, we reunite the expression of the sacred feminine with the masculine in to One; we return the long shadows of our parents to the light, and together we laugh through our tears at the perfect and ironic balance of it all.
Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a a freelance officant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She will be teaching several classes for The University of Judaism's Adult Studies program during their winter semester. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.