Parashat Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:27

By Rabbi Heather Ellen Miller for Beth Chayim Chadashim

Many of you remember the movie: “A league of their own” about the women who played on national baseball leagues while men went off to serve in WWII.

There is a famous and unforgettable scene where Tom Hanks, who plays their coach, yells at one of the players, hurling insults and demeaning her– her feelings are hurt and
understandably, she begins to cry. He notices this and approaches her: “Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!”

Many of us have found ourselves in situations where we can relate to this player. Where we have been insulted and then chastised for being “too sensitive.”
Have any of you ever been called sensitive? Recently, I was told that I am “sensitive.”

And, I have been mulling over and teasing apart exactly what happened in that moment. I recognize that this person was using the word “sensitive” as an insult. She was of the idea that being sensitive was a bad thing. The butch that I am, I fell for it– when she called me this name, I took offense– being sensitive, in our society, is not the macho or rational thing to be. And, I began questioning my own actions.

Really, what I see now is that she was using this time tested tactic to belittle and silence me.

Think back to a time when someone in your life has hurled the word “sensitive” in your direction. Perhaps someone made a joke that was in poor taste, and you articulated a
response that indicated your offense, and they said, “don’t be so sensitive– it was just a joke.” Or, perhaps you let your emotions flow, and someone handed you a kleenex not in a caring way, but in a way as to say, “Your crying needs to stop now.” Or, perhaps someone along the line said to you, “Boys don’t cry.” And, you learned that
crying was a sign of the weak, the emotionally unstable.

What was your reaction to their “observation”?

Being “sensitive” has, somewhere along the line, become seen as a bad thing. That “big girls don’t cry” and “real men don’t cry.” And that people should toughen up and
suck it up and deal with it. Everyday, children are bullied for crying. Especially boys. They are told to “toughen up” or “man up” or “take it like a man.” And, never show
emotion in public.

I read a story of a man in his mid-40′s, who’s 13 year old son was injured in a football game. The father rushed lovingly over to him and whispered in his ear “Don’t cry, don’t
cry, wait until you get into the car and then you can cry.”

Back in the days of the patriarchs, crying occurred frequently. For example, I cannot imagine this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, to exist without a
beautiful scene of weeping.

The setting is this:
Joseph had a beautiful coat and was his father’s favorite son. His 11 brothers were jealous and mercilessly threw him into a pit and left him for dead. After many years,
they finally came face to face with one another as full grown adults. And what does Joseph do? Joseph cried out to them. The language used is:
וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי;
vayiten et kolo biv’chi. And he gave his voice in crying.

The text notes that from there, he was miraculously able to forgive them for their actions so long before.

And with that, he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and then
his brothers were able to talk to him.
Can you imagine this scene without the all the crying?
Think about it: What does the crying add to the scene?

Crying communicates emotions beyond what mere words fail to convey. Crying adds sincerity because comes from a deep place. A place of truth. A place of realness.
Crying shows a tender heart rather than a callous heart. It reveals the ability to empathize and connect with another person. In the Torah, it signals growth and transformation. So, while there might not be crying in baseball, there most CERTAINLY IS crying in Torah.

I think of the relentless weeping and sobbing of Hannah in the Temple over being barren, to which her prayers are answered. But SO many others cry as well:
Jacob, when he kissed Rachel [Genesis 29:11], and then when he thought his son Joseph was dead [Genesis 37:35]. When their wives and children were taken captive, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep [1 Samuel 30:4]. Mordecai cried with a loud and bitter cry at the decree to slay the Jewish people [Esther 4:1], Egyptians weep [Exodus 12:30], Israelites weep [Numbers 11:10], and Moabites weep[Isaiah 16:7], too. The Prophet Isaiah shares that both brave men cry aloud and peacemakers weep bitterly, at the destruction of Jerusalem [Isaiah 33:7].

All of these figures cry and more. And, what does God do?

We are told in 2 Kings 20:5 that: God takes note of those who cry.
And, the Prophet Joel reminds us that God recognizes weeping as one of the purest forms of offering, and one of the purest forms of prayer [Joel 2:12].

In the Torah, expressing this type of emotion is the opposite of having a hardened heart– and we know of the hard hearted Pharaoh who is obstinate and stubborn and a
villain. Jewishly, there is no shame in crying. Indeed, the Torah sees being tenderhearted as a virtue not a vice.

There was a time when secular society appreciated sensitivity, too. Tom Lutz, author of the 1999 book Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, teaches that in the
18th century, it was not only acceptable, but expected for men and women to cry: “If you didn’t cry at the theater or didn’t cry at the opera, it meant that you were some kind of lower class boor.”

In the 19th century, crying actually marked the skill of orators. Lutz notes that both Abraham Lincoln and his political opponent Stephen Douglas both cried at the right
moments in their speeches. However, the industrial revolution’s increasing demand for efficiency left no room for expressing emotion, pretty much drying up men’s tears in the latter half of the 19th century and through most of the 20th.

An infamous public tear shaming of a public official occurred in 1972 when Senator Edmund Muskie lost his bid to be the Democratic presidential nominee because he
appeared to cry at a news conference. He was so ashamed that people thought he was crying that he maintained that it was melting snow, not tears, that he wiped from his
cheeks during the outdoor gathering. Society still sends messages everyday that men don’t cry and shouldn’t cry. Though, due to the feminist movement’s victories, and since the tragic events that occurred on  9/11 and the public displays of grief that followed, crying is making its way back into acceptability.

Last week, immediately after the tragedy in Newtown, CT, how could we not be emotionally moved by the fact that twenty very young children and six vivacious adults
were ruthlessly gunned down. Public displays of tears revealed what words failed to convey. Family members and law enforcement officers, preachers and public officials
sincerely expressed their deeply felt grief and loss by weeping. Rightfully so, sensitive souls were allowed to breathe.

Sometimes shedding tears is all we can do in the moment. God is no stranger to weeping at tragedy as well. The Rabbis reveal in a Midrash that
God wept when the Temple was destroyed [Aichah Rabbah Petichta 24]. In this way, weeping not only reveals our humanity, but in this way, weeping also reveals the Divine spark that we were created with– our connection with the events around us and with those around us.

So, reveal your sensitivity if you need to, and have no shame in it. We are human and life is not all roses and lilies– the human experience is one of triumph and struggle,
beauty and pain, growth and learning. Be sensitive by birth, but also by choice. And, know always, that there IS crying in temple– because this is where we thank God for
our connections to those around  us, and where we take comfort in our friends. We are not alone. Shabbat Shalom.

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