Not All Tears Are the Same
By Harav Michoel Sorotzkin
We find the crying of Yosef in eight places in Sefer Bereishis. This is something almost totally missing by the other shevatim. Why is Yosef crying?
To understand this, when we think further, we realize that crying is also missing from the Avos. Of the Avos, only Yaakov cries. This is when he meets Rochel and realizes they won’t be buried together. When we look at the Imahos, crying is also quite limited in the pesukim. Only Rochel famously cries for her children. Why is this?
There is a Pesikta which will help us unravel this puzzle. Commenting on the passuk, “Rochel died on me [Yaakov],” the Midrash explains the blunt phrasing. “I [Yaakov] lost her [Rochel]… [Yosef asks,] ‘Maybe it was the rainy season and you [Yaakov] couldn’t bury her elsewhere?’ [Yaakov answers,] ‘The passuk (ibid.) says kivras eretz, when the land is totally dry, between Pesach and Shavuos.’ [This midrash disagrees with the well-known date of 11 Cheshvan as the yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu.] [Yosef says,] ‘Decree for me now and I will move her burial spot.’ [Yaakov answers,] ‘You are not able to, my son, because I buried her there according to a Divine command. HaKadosh Baruch Hu would not let me bury her elsewhere despite my request. Why? Because it is known before Him that the Beis HaMikdash will be destroyed and His children will be exiled. And they will go to the Avos to ask that the Avos pray for them, and they will not be successful. Then they will come to Rochel’s burial place and they will hug it and she will stand and ask for mercy from HaKadosh Baruch Hu: “Ribbono shel Olam, listen to the sound of my crying and have mercy on my children…” HaKadosh Baruch Hu will accept her prayer… as it is written, “And they will return to their place.”’ We see that he [Yaakov] comforted him [Yosef] as to why his mother did not receive a proper burial site.”
Now we can understand better the Rashi that Yaakov is crying concerning his and Rochel’s burial site. It is not merely that this husband and wife will not be buried together, but that Rochel will be able to pray for their children who will be sent to galus. They are crying over the suffering of their future generations.
The Daas Zekeinim MiBaalei Tosafos explains the passuk, “And Rochel his [Lavan’s] daughter is coming with her flock,” as follows: This is identified with the passuk, “A voice is heard from the hill… Rochel is crying for her children,” and refers to Yaakov seeing that the galus of Edom is very long, that it is not time to bring in the flocks. The passuk continues, “And he removed the stone,” which teaches that in his merit the galus will end. And, finally, “And he [Yaakov] raised his voice and cried.” Yaakov was crying over Bnei Yisrael and Moshiach ben Yosef ben Rochel. The passuk, “Rochel is crying for her children,” means Rochel also cried about their difficulties.
Here we learn that Yaakov and Rochel were crying over the difficult lot of their descendants many generations to come.
Normally we think of crying as reflecting a person overwhelmed with his own pain and difficulties. Yet we find with the crying of Yosef and Binyamin that they are always only crying over the difficulties of others — though they themselves suffered immense personal difficulties. Amazingly, when Yosef suffers the hatred of his brothers, being thrown into the pit, his sale to Mitzrayim, his being unfairly jailed, and so forth — he does not cry. Similarly, when Binyamin is born orphaned from his mother and later mourns his older brother, he does not cry. Yet these two brothers, who suffer more than all the other shevatim, are never crying about their personal difficulties. Only concerning others do we find them crying, “When he has mercy on his brother.” Certainly, each crying has its own significance and is explored by Chazal, yet we always find that the crying is due to sensitivity to the plight of others, and never their own problems.
Similarly, when we look at the crying of Rochel and Yaakov, it is also other-oriented. They both suffered much personally. Yaakov struggled with Esav and Lavan and his difficulties with his children, Dina and Yosef. Rochel also suffered her father’s treachery on what was supposed to be her wedding night, her barrenness, and her short, tragic life.
However, since the focus of Yaakov and Rochel is toward their descendants, to try to rescue them from galus, so too is this middah inculcated in their children, Yosef and Binyamin. So too, the only children of this marriage learn their parents’ middah of crying for others.
The question begs to be asked: Why do we find crying by Yosef so much more than by Binyamin? Yosef cries eight times in the Torah. Why so much?
To answer this question, let’s focus on the passuk, “When Rochel bore Yosef, Yaakov said to Lavan, ‘Send me and I will go back to my place.’” Rashi comments, “When the accuser of Esav is born [Yaakov can now return home], as the passuk teaches, ‘The House of Yaakov will be fire and the House of Yosef a flame and Esav as straw.’ Fire without a flame cannot go far. When Yosef is born, Yaakov can rely on HaKadosh Baruch Hu and wants to return [home].”
We find further explanation of this idea in the Yalkut Shimoni (Parashas Toldos) on the passuk that discusses Yaakov and Esav, the as-yet unborn twins, fighting in their mother’s womb. “They are fighting over the inheritance of two worlds: Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba. Yaakov takes Olam Haba and Esav takes Olam Hazeh.” The Maharal in his commentary on Kiddushin (31b) explains why Esav fulfills the mitzvah of honoring his father: “The Gemara (Bava Metzia 33a) says that one who finds the lost object of both his father and his Rebbi must return it first to his Rebbi. Though his father brings him to This World, his Rebbi brings him to the Next World. Since Esav has a strong connection with This World, as proven in the above Yalkut Shimoni, he connects with the mitzvah of honoring his father, which represents a person’s connection to This World.”
The Gemara (Bava Basra 123b) relates, “Yaakov Avinu saw that the children of Esav will only be defeated by the children of Yosef, as it is written, ‘The House of Yaakov will be fire and the House of Yosef a flame and Esav as straw.’” In the commentary of Rabbeinu Yonasan on Megillas Esther (2:5) he explains this Gemara that Esav has the strength of his mitzvas kibbud av of Yitzchak. Therefore, only the descendants of Rochel, who did not torture their father Yaakov with the sin of mechiras Yosef, can be the ones to defeat Esav. We can understand his words on another plane as well. Esav excelled in kibbud av, which relates to his acquisition of This World. Only those sons of Yaakov who have a claim to This World due to their performance of the mitzvah of kibbud av, by not torturing their father, can defeat Esav. The Rabbeinu Yonasan (3:7) takes this idea to its zenith, “Only Esther, who was orphaned from both her father and mother and therefore never was able to sin in the mitzvah of kibbud av, is able to fight Amalek, the grandson of Esav.”
Let us look at the Maharsha on this Gemara: “With the purchase of the bechorah and the taking of the brachos, Yaakov now rules over his older brother, Esav. And this is what Yaakov transfers to Yosef, as the Gemara relates from the passuk, ‘I have given him an extra portion above his brothers, that which I took from the Emori’ (Bereishis 48:22), and with this transaction Yosef is the recipient of the children of Esav and not any other tribe.” Rashi on this passuk seems to give a different explanation: “Because you will toil over my [Yaakov’s] burial.”
Perhaps we can link the idea of the Maharsha with this Rashi. Due to his kibbud av at Yitzchak’s burial, Yosef merits being the one to rule over Esav. This is, of course, in response to the fact, as proven by the Maharal above, that Esav’s merit to fight with his brother comes from his kibbud av. This was Esav at his best, because he appreciates that it is one’s father who brings one to This World, and it is This World that was originally meant to be Esav’s inheritance. Thus, it is only Yosef, who honored his father more than the others at his burial and did not pain his father [with the sale of a son], who can triumph over Esav.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:13) says on the passuk, “And Yisrael said to Yosef, ‘Behold your brothers are in Shechem’”: “Rabbi Chama bar Chanina said, ‘[Yosef] knew that his brothers hated him yet he was willing to go to them to Shechem.’” We see that Yosef excelled in the mitzvah of honoring his father even to the point of risking his life. Therefore, it is Yosef who can fight the merits of Esav who also excelled in this same mitzvah.
To understand more fully the merits of Esav, see the Midrash Tanchuma (Kedoshim 15): “Come see how dear is the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Concerning this mitzvah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu rewards both the righteous and the wicked. What is the proof? From Esav the wicked. Due to honoring his father, Esav merited his portion [in This World]. Rabbi Elazar said, ‘Esav the wicked shed three tears: one from his right eye, one from his left, and a third formed but did not fall.’ When Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, ‘Esav raised his voice and cried.’ Come see how much HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave him. The passuk says, ‘You fed him the bread of tears and supported him with tears of shlish.’ Three is not written here fully, but as a variant. This teaches that his three tears were not complete. If HaKadosh Baruch Hu honors a wicked person so much due to his honoring his father, someone who honors his father and performs other mitzvos will be rewarded even more.’” We see here explicitly in the words of Chazal that Esav’s merit comes from his performance of the mitzvah of honoring his father and from the three tears he shed when he lost the brachos of his father.
We saw that Yosef is the one to defeat Esav because Yosef also has the mitzvah of honoring his father. It stands to reason that Yosef will also be the one to cry and shed tears. HaKadosh Baruch Hu created parallels. Yosef is parallel to Esav and therefore Yosef can defeat him. It is those tears of the mechiras Yosef, which occurred while Yosef was trying to honor his father, which make Yosef the master of tears.
The Malbim in the sefer Eretz Chemdah (Vayeilech 7) quotes the Chavas Yair: “It is well known that because of Esav’s three tears we are in galus until ‘those tears become batel’ (Zohar). The question is that rivers of tears have already been shed by Bnei Yisrael; why are those three tears not canceled? He answers, Rabbi Yehudah holds (Zevachim 78) that in the same species there is no cancellation. Therefore, tears cannot cancel tears. If, however, the Jewish tears would be somehow different, then they will cause cancellation of Esav’s tears.
“Esav cries because he lost his father’s brachos of This World. If we would cry for what is really wrong, that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has his Shechinah in galus and we cannot have the atonement of korbanos, then Esav’s tears would be canceled because Esav is only crying for This World.
Our tears, if they are for pure spiritual goals, can cancel Esav’s tears. The problem is that we are also crying only for our difficulties in This World and therefore we cannot cancel those three tears of Esav.”
Now we can understand the reason why Yosef is crying over the galus and why he does not cry over his own personal troubles. It is because only these purely spiritual tears of Yosef have the power to redeem Bnei Yisrael from the galus caused by Esav. This is the meaning of the passuk, “With crying they will come and with pleading I will lead them… because I [Hashem] will be a father to Yisrael and Efraim [all of Yisrael is endearing] is my firstborn son.”
To Read The Full Story
Are you already a subscriber?
Click "Sign In" to log in!
Become a Web Subscriber
Click “Subscribe” below to begin the process of becoming a new subscriber.
Become a Print + Web Subscriber
Click “Subscribe” below to begin the process of becoming a new subscriber.
Renew Print + Web Subscription
Click “Renew Subscription” below to begin the process of renewing your subscription.