Are We Too Dispirited to See Solutions?


They’re powerful, aren’t they?

So powerful that they even heal broken relationships.

And that power is seen later in Sefer Bireishis. It’s seen when Yosef meets his brothers, 22 years after they sell him into slavery.

At that meeting, Yosef sheds tears. And it was those tears that healed their relationship. We see that from the sequence of events at that meeting: “And Yosef told his brothers, ‘I am Yosef’…Yosef’s brothers couldn’t answer him because they were frightened …. and Yosef cried on his brothers [necks]. And then his brothers spoke to him.”[1]

These verses note that the brothers, embarrassed for having sold Yosef into slavery “couldn’t answer him.” if they weren’t answering they can’t reestablish a relationship with them..

Then, though, Yosef “cried on his brothers [necks].” And – once Yosef cried - “then the brothers spoke to him.”

Those tears then, seemingly, changed matters and let the brothers “speak to “ Yosef. And once that happened, lines of communication opened and the healing began.

Tears, then, healed their relationship.

And there’s so much about tears that allows for that.

They’re warm. So they melt petrified pasts.

And they’re are liquid. So they dissolve frozen feelings.

And, more than almost anything else, they’re expressions of the heart – they show others that our feelings for them are real.

Which is why Yosef’s tears showed the brothers that he loved them. And that, in turn, reignited their suppressed fraternal feelings.[2]

Those tears, though, didn’t just heal Yosef’s relationship with his brothers.

They also healed Yosef’s relationship with himself.

They relieved some of the past pain about the sale into slavery. And that let Yosef pivot away from past pain. And focus on a brighter future.

This relief is described in the following story: “Upon driving Adam and Chava from Gan Eden, Hashem told them...you’re about to enter into a world …. where you will meet with much tribulation and it will embitter your lives. For this reason I give you… this priceless pearl. Look! It is a tear! And when grief overtakes you … then there will fall from your eyes this tiny tear. Then your burden will grow lighter.” [3]

Yes, tears also heal our relationships with ourselves.

And they heal yet one more relationship.

That’s the relationship with Hashem.

That’s made clear by the following Midrash: “Just as Yosef appeased his brothers through tears, so too Hashem will redeem us though tears.”[4]

This Midrash is stating that our tears facilitated our redemption and healed our relationship with Hashem.

Tears do that by cleansing hearts and clearing eyes. That leads to repentance. They do that because they’re warm and liquid. That ignites spirituality and dissolves hardness.

Yes, tears even heal our relationship with the divine.

Tears, then, heal so much and in so many ways.

Not, though, in all ways.

And that’s because tears can also hurt.

That happens when tears don’t cleanse but, rather, cloud. When that happens, eyes and heart can’t see or feel light, warmth or solutions.

Its such tears that saturate the following story: “Hagar… and her child, Yishmael …wandered in the desert … and the water depleted … and she threw the child under a bush… she said let me not see him die (of thirst) … and … she sat at a distance and … wept…. Hashem opened Hagar’s eyes and she noticed a well of water.”[5]

Reading how Hagar distances herself from her dying son causes you to wonder: Why is she doing that? Why isn’t she sitting near him and consoling him as he dies?

Is it because her’s were tears of self-pity and of depression? Such tears – which can cloud one’s vision even to a dying son’s needs – would have focused Hagar on her grief.

And such a focus would, indeed, prompt a distancing for that grief’s source - her son’s impending death.

These tears then prevented Hagar from comforting her dying son.

And, more tragically, these tears almost caused Yishmael’s death.

And that’s because those tears – which blinded Hagar to so much – also blinded her to the water supply that eventually saved her son’s life

Yes, water for slaking the dying child’s thirst had always been available. Isn’t that spelled out when the verse about Yishmael’s salvation says: “Hashem opened Hagar’s eyes and she noticed a well of water.”[6]

There’s no mention of Hashem miraculously creating a well to save Yishmael. There’s, rather, mention of Hashem “opening” Hagar’s eyes and letting her “notice” something she hadn’t noticed before.[7]

Water had, seemingly, been there all along. Hagar just hadn’t noticed it. Why not? Probably, as we just noted, because her tears had clouded her vision.

It isn’t just Hagar who cries, is it?

We also cry.

Whether it’s because of illness, stymied relationships, unreachable children or financial challenges – we all have occasion to cry.

We can’t, then, decide whether we will or won’t cry.

We may, though, be able to decide what type of tears we cry.

We can cry tears that cloud our eyes and close our hearts.. Those tears will blind us to possibilities.

Or we can cry tears that cleanse our eyes and clear our hearts.

Those tears may wash away mistakes and may open up new vistas.

Vistas that may have been there all along.

[1] Bereishis 45:3-15

[2] See Rashi ad. loc. who writes that these tears demonstrated that Yosef’s “heart was whole with them.”

[3] Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Aish.com, March 29, 2017

[4] Tanchuma Vayiggash 5

[5] Bereishis, 21:16-19

[6] Bereishis, 21:14-19

[7] Bereishis, 21:14-19

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