When Jacob met his son Joseph twenty-two years after the separation, the Torah says, “Joseph fell on his neck and wept” (Genesis 46:29).This quote refers only to one person crying: “And he Cried. Who is the Torah referring to? Is it Jacob or Joseph who weeps?
One could argue that the crying one is more likely to be Joseph. After all, Joseph must have regretted deeply that he had stirred up the jealousy of his brothers in his dream, and that he had not been able to get in touch with his father during the years of separation.
Jacob, on the other hand, must have been deeply regretful too, which probably prompted him to cry. Jacob grew up in a household rife with favourites, and he should know he shouldn’t. His preference for Joseph eventually led to Joseph’s sale. Jacob also made the mistake of sending Joseph to his brothers to make peace with them. This plan backfired, leading directly to Joseph being sold to Egypt. Tears of regret are understandable.
There is another approach that goes beyond feelings of regret and has to do with a person’s state of mind more generally. Here, classic reviews disagree. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch believes that Jacob lived in isolation for 22 years in one place, wallowing in the pain of losing his son. When he met Joseph, he did not cry because “his tears had long since dried up.” When finally reunited, Jacob had no more tears. However, Joseph went through “many changes of fate” after leaving home and never had time to dwell on his homesickness. Those repressed emotions came to the surface when he saw his father. His cries indicated the sudden outburst of this pent-up emotion.
Nachmanides takes a different approach and offers perhaps the most penetrating psychological insight. He argued that Jacob was more likely to cry than Joseph. After all, considering the emotions of an elderly father on the one hand and the emotions of a young and strong son on the other, it is obvious that fathers are more likely to cry. In Nachmanid’s words, “Who is more likely to shed tears? An aging parent who, after despairing and mourning for him, discovers that his long-lost son is alive, or a young ruler?”
When speaking about this text, I often ask my students, “How many of you have ever seen your mother cry?” Undoubtedly, many students will answer in the affirmative. But few hands go up when I ask about their fathers. Jacob broke the mold. His tears reflect an open emotional love that allows a father to cry freely in the presence of his children.
In our personal lives, deep tears reflect deep emotions. The expression of such feelings should not be denied, but encouraged. Just as there are times when joy and smiles should be shown to everyone, there are also times of pain and anxiety. In times like these, children are, in a sense, privileged to glimpse the depth of their parents’ emotions and witness the natural flow of tears.
December 30 at 5:23 pm