By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
And he [Yosef] fell on his brother Binyamin’s neck and cried, and Binyamin cried on his neck.
The wisest of men said there is a time to weep, which implies that there will be occasions when weeping is inappropriate. Though King Solomon’s exact words were there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, obviously there are times when other responses are called for. Clearly, life is not simply about crying or laughing.
This week’s parashah relates the story of Yosef’s dramatic reunion with his brothers. Though he embraces them all, he reserves his deepest emotions for his only full brother, Binyamin. Yosef left him when Binyamin was a mere child, and Binyamin was the only one who was not involved in the plot against Yosef. Theirs is, therefore, an exceptional embrace.
Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Megillah 16b), explains that for both brothers, beyond the powerful feelings of the moment, their cries were nothing short of prophetic. Yosef cried over the two Temples of Jerusalem, destined for destruction, which were in the land apportioned to the tribe of Binyamin. And Binyamin cried over the Sanctuary at Shilo, located in the land apportioned to the tribe of Yosef, which too would be destroyed.
The question is, why are they each crying over the other’s churban? Why do they not cry over their own?
Perhaps the answer is that when it comes to someone else’s problem, we may be able to help but we cannot always solve them. Even good friends can only do so much. We can offer generous assistance, support, and the best advice in the world, but the rest is up to him. No matter how strenuous our efforts, there can be no guarantee that they will be successful. As hard as we may try to help, the individual alone holds the key to sort out his own situation.
So, if we are convinced that we have done our absolute best for the other person and have still failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution, the only thing we can do is shed a tear. We can pray for them, we can be sympathetic. Beyond that, there is really nothing else we can do. When we have tried and failed, all we can do is cry.
But when it comes to our own problems and challenges, our own churban, there we dare not settle for a good cry. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up and weeping. If it is our problem, then it is our duty to confront it again and again until we make it right. For others we can cry, but for ourselves we must act.
After the Holocaust, the great spiritual leaders of Europe were counting their losses—in the millions! The great Chassidic courts of Poland, the prestigious yeshivas of Lithuania—all were destroyed by the Nazi hordes. What did these righteous men do? Did they sit down and cry? Of course there were tears and mourning and indescribable grief, but the emphasis quickly shifted to rebuilding. And today, thank G‑d, those same institutions are alive and well, thriving and pulsating with spirit and energy in Israel and the United States with many offshoots around the world. The leadership focused on the future. And painstakingly, over time, they were able to resuscitate and rejuvenate their decimated communities.
Those leaders cried bitter tears for their fallen comrades, but for themselves they did not sit and weep. They set about the task of rebuilding—and succeeded in a most inspiring, miraculous way.
When we have problems (and who doesn’t?), so many of us simply moan and groan and heave a good old-fashioned Yiddishe krechtz. How many times have we sighed, “Vos ken men tun?—What can I do?” And what are we left with? Moaning and groaning and nothing else. In the words of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch (1860–1920), one good deed is worth more than a thousand sighs.
Leave the krechtzing and kvetching for others. If it’s your problem, confront it, deal with it, work at it. You’ll be surprised by the results. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.