At some point during this extremely harsh and intense ordeal between the brothers and Yosef (who was still undercover), Yosef could not hold himself back anymore and left the scene in order to cry. It sounds to us like a very sweet act, an emotion that is natural and heartfelt, one that is borne out of the mercy of Yosef’s heart who was terribly pained by the distress that he was putting the brothers under. Soon after, he indeed revealed his true identity to his brothers...and everything was happily ever after.
However, while this might be the basic understanding of Yosef’s crying and the aftermath of it, the Sefat Emet takes a 180° turn on this perception. Instead, he explains that Yosef’s crying was for a totally different reason. In fact, the fact that he couldn’t hold himself back from crying was not a good thing, but rather, if only Yosef was able to hold himself back longer. If only Yosef was able to continue putting the brothers through this distress, the brothers would have gained a far greater atonement for their sin of selling Yosef, and this would have spared much of the future anguish (including the destruction of both Batei Mikdash) that the Jewish people would have to go through in order to atone for that sin. Had he been able to just hang in there a bit more, to put them through a bit more suffering, this would have had a profound effect for all future generations to come, so that they wouldn’t have to go through challenging suffering.
Many times we go through difficult times in our lives. For some who experience extended times of suffering, sometimes they feel like they just can’t hold back anymore, that they just want to give up. We learn from Yosef the enormous value in trying to hang in a bit more, and to trust that this suffering will hopefully soon come to an end, and that going through this suffering will in the future bring a tremendous amount of relief and light—either to us or for those we care about.
There’s a story of a man living in the times of the Rashash who experienced so much suffering. At a certain point he felt he couldn’t handle it any longer, and so he went to see the Rashash. The secretary asked him to sit and wait before he can go in. While he was waiting, he fell into some sort of trance (seemingly the Rashash was uniquely holy and on a lofty spiritual level to able to do this), and he found himself in Heaven. There in Heaven he saw them carrying out a judgment on him. All his merits and misdeeds are present, and the scales come out. First, the merits step on the scale, one by one. Some are damaged, others are whole. Then, all his misdeeds begin to step on the scale. Some are not as bad, others are worse. He watches as the side of misdeeds begin tipping the scale, and to his horror, he sees the misdeeds outweighing the side of merits. Thinking all is lost, he thought he was doomed. But then a voice rings out asking all his sufferings to step on the side of the merits. And one by one they came. Each time another one came he got more and more hopeful. Ultimately, the final verdict showed his merits to win, but it was because of his sufferings. He realized that all the times he went through pain, suffering and distress, he was gaining immense amounts of merits, and that really they were helping him. He awoke, and the secretary said he can come in. But he remarked, “I’m good.” He understood the message.
This man was given the opportunity to see the value of his sufferings. Ultimately we can never know the good that suffering brings, but it may be helpful at times to know that there is tremendous value in it. If only one can hang in there a bit more.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He currently learns in Eretz Yisrael, and is the author of the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ weekly Torah Talk. He can be reached at [email protected]