Dec 21 2017 Dvar Torah


Rabbi Helen Cohn

“Who’s crying now?”

Sometimes the Torah is tantalizingly ambiguous. Although we want to be told what is happening at each point in the story, the Torah sometimes prefers to let us imagine ourselves into the scene to find the answer for ourselves.

A striking example of this ambiguity occurs when Joseph, having revealed his identity to his brothers, prepares to meet his father Jacob after an absence of twenty-two years.

And Joseph made ready his chariot,
and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen;
and he appeared unto him
and fell on his neck,
and wept on his neck a good while. (Genesis 46:29)

The question is: who is weeping, Jacob (Israel) or Joseph?!

Rashi says it was Joseph who fell on his father’s neck and wept, “but Jacob did not fall on Joseph’s neck and did not kiss him. Our Rabbis state that he was reciting the Shema.” This comment leads to more questions than answers: Why did Jacob not respond with emotion to seeing his son? Why would he instead recite the Shema at this highly charged moment?

On the other hand, the prestigious commentator Ramban asserts that it was Jacob who wept: “He fell on [Joseph’s] neck and wept for him more, in continuance of the constant weeping for him until that day….”

Which might it be? It easily could be Joseph’s tears, since we have been told that he has turned aside to weep numerous times since he first saw his brothers appear before him. On the other hand as Ramban says, “By whom are tears more easily shed? By the aged parent who finds his long lost son alive after despairing and mourning for him or the young son who rules?”

All of our ancestors’ stories in the Torah leave room for interpretation of feelings and motives, as we see with this apparently simple verse. There are as many interpretations as there are readers. The power of the Torah is that it leaves room for us to imagine ourselves in its world, and gain insights from that imaginative act. In this instance Torah invites us to look into our own lives, into our own relationships, and see for ourselves who cries with the emotion of reunion, and who holds back.