2015-12-09 / Religion Column

‘Honest tears’ bring balance to our lives

Temple Beth Shalom in Brigantine & President of the South Jersey Board of Rabbis and Cantors

Parshiot Miketz &Vayigash Gen. 41:1-47:27

How many of us feel that we have that family we deserve? This is a pretty controversial question or challenging thought, right? And yet, think about it for a moment…take your time…feeling uncomfortable, yet? These sorts of questions feel almost “dirty” for us to consider, but these are just the very kind of questions that come up in our upcoming Torah portions, Miketz and Vayigash.

Let’s entertain another: How many of us question our worthiness to have our life’s dreams fulfilled? Far less controversial a rumination, perhaps, yet nevertheless still quite sad. The longer we live, the more likely it is that this question percolates to the surface of our consciousness, largely because we cannot imagine the person we are being defined by our (very likely significant) successes as much as we believe that we are defined by our failures. No matter our achievements in life, as it is said, we feel (and, in some cases, are treated by others) only as impressive as our last success.

This may sound like the positing of very cynical questions for a cynical age, but they are not. In fact, they are quite reasonable and universal reflections and, in observing the arc of Joseph’s life, particularly as exemplified in his testing of his brothers and through his unfolding of this reunion with them, we see the very human desperation of wanting to be accepted by those close to us. The natural desire to be loved, especially for many people who have been mistreated over the course of their lives, is a powerful factor in decision-making because it drives us to seek inauthentic versions of self-love.

Vayigash, in fact, is one of my most favorite Torah portions for this very reason: Joseph’s narrative reflects the human condition. He must grow throughout his life from a point of being presumptuous to living without presumption. For Joseph, the culmination of this self-transformation is his ability to “let it go” and to “weep out loud.” This is a rare moment in Jewish holy texts, the unabashed letting go of pretext about oneself (especially for such a powerful and important person within the narrative arc of the Hebrew Bible) to acknowledge such a basic human need; in this case, the need to be accepted and loved.

As a Rabbi, I can tell you that this is not an uncommon preoccupation for most people who reach out to me in need. In our increasingly fractured world, we do not receive the persistent affirmations of generations gone by that confirm that we are making good choices. In many ways, for Joseph and for ourselves, such moments of intense honesty complete a stage of transformation that marks forever who we have become.

So, what of it? Why does it matter that we are honest with ourselves and with others about our basic human needs? It’s rather simple: Without allowing ourselves to be seen and accepted for who we are, we are relegated to playing a bit part rather than starring in our own real life play.

Having just a couple of weeks ago celebrated what I like to call, “the Great Civic Passover” (Thanksgiving) and now in the midst of celebrating Chanukah, two family-centered observances for American Jews, now might just be time to question how much we share with our families and what we give back to them.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to “weep out loud” as Joseph did. You might just find that your life will never be the same because you are now in it.

May we shed “honest tears” as we acknowledge the best of ourselves, bringing balance back to our lives and reuniting lost souls. .

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