From the day that the Temple was destroyed, the heavenly gates of prayer were locked. . . nevertheless, the gates of tears have not been locked. (Talmud Bavli, Bava Metzia 59a).
When Joseph first recognizes his brothers, he runs out of the room. Alone, he cries, composes himself, and returns. Later, Judah offers to become Joseph’s slave in exchange for Benjamin’s life. Then, Joseph orders everyone except his brothers out of the room. He sobs so loudly everyone in the building hears. He kisses each brother and cries on their shoulders. When he finally sees his father Jacob, he cries in Jacob’s arms.
What do all these tears mean? Here are two views.
Shuly Rubin Schwartz (2008). Joseph’s tears are part of his transition to adulthood and leadership. He cries over three things as he reconciles them in his heart. (1) Childhood grief with the possibility of new family relationships. (2) Public persona with private life. (3) Invincible power with personal vulnerability. Only then does he emerge as a biblical hero we can admire and empathize with.
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler (c. 1940). Talmud says that the gates of prayer are closed, but the gates of tears are always open. But know that the Talmud doesn’t speak of heavenly gates. Rather, it talks about gates in our hearts. Sometimes, hearts are closed to spirituality. We may know, cognitively, that we should escape our own entrapment. But we cannot simply will to overcome our inner blocs. Only emotion so earnest that it brings us to tears can open our hearts. That’s how we connect to God and become our true selves.
For more reflections on Parshat Miketz (Gen. 44:1-44:1), click here.