“And he cried in a loud voice and Mitzrayim heard and Paroh’s household heard. And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?’” (Bereishis 45:3). That Yosef cried is understandable. For all of these years, there were deep emotions of sadness and yearning pent up within him. Now there were added feelings of happiness upon the reunion. All of these were expressed with this heart-piercing cry. The Torah tells us that when he fell upon his brother Binyomin’s neck, he cried again. Furthermore, “He then kissed all his brothers and wept upon them” (ibid. 15). Why does the Torah stress this additional crying? What’s more, the brothers did not cry with him. Why not?
About this added crying of Yosef, the Medrash comments: “Just as Yosef appeased his brothers amidst crying, so too, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will redeem his children, as it says, “With weeping they will come and with supplications I will bring them” (Yirmiyahu 31:8) (Bereishis Rabbah). One would think that after thousands of years in this dark and bitter golus, when the redemption finally comes, we would feel an overwhelming ecstasy with our mouths filled with song. Why, then, will the geulah engender crying on our part and how does it compare to Yosef’s crying when reuniting with his brothers?
The K’sav Sofer explains that when Yosef was first sold as a slave and brought down to Mitzrayim, a land of impurity and corruption, he was terribly distraught over the separation from his father and family. He experienced culture shock leaving the holy land of Canaan for a land filled with idolatry and immorality. But with the passing of time, slowly but surely, the pain eased and he came to terms with his situation. This is why he named his bechor Menasheh: “Ki nashani…for Elokim had made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household” (Bereishis 41:51).
Now that he once again came in contact with his brothers, he was shaken up. He had forgotten what a holy Jew looked like for the long time he was detached from the lofty levels that he was accustomed to back home. Now, once again, he was in the presence of people whose countenance bespoke refinement of character and elevation of spiritual level, heilige Yidden in the image of his father.
Now that he was reunited with them, yes, there were tears of joy, but with them were also tears of sorrow. All of those years were lost. All of those years when he could have lived in their company in the Holy Land, imbibing kedushah and growing spiritually. All of those years were squandered. In Mitzrayim, a land of decadence, he was deprived of all of this. His brothers did not cry, because throughout all of the years they were not missing this.
According to the Medrash, the tale of Yosef is a harbinger of the future of Klal Yisroel throughout the generations. Aileh toldos Yaakov Yosef. The happenings of the progeny of Yaakov are foretold by the experiences of Yosef, and the reunion of Yosef with his family represents the final geulah.
Our experience in golus is much the same as that of Yosef. When we were first exiled, our nation decimated and forced to leave Eretz Yisroel, the pain was unbearable. We wondered how we would survive. But with the passing of time, we became accustomed to our new surroundings and gradually the pain eased. Over the many centuries, we have forgotten what it means to live in Eretz Yisroel with the presence of the Holy Shechinah and the Bais Hamikdosh. We cannot envisage what the gedolim right before us were like, let alone throughout the many centuries all the way back to before the churban.
When the geulah finally comes, when we are all finally reunited with the Shechinah, when the avos hakedoshim, Moshe and Aharon and other tzaddikim of yesteryear are before us, we will see images of perfection and see what high levels one can attain in ruchniyus. We will rejoice over the redemption and reunion, but at the same time we fill feel anxiety for all of those years when we missed this association with kedushah. Hence, at the same time that we will cry tears of joy, we will shed tears of sorrow for that which we were bereft of throughout all of those centuries.
One wonders, then, if so much is lost in golus, if the level of Klal Yisroel has so plummeted throughout the generations, if the quality of our avodah has been so compromised, then of what benefit is it? Of course, it is beyond our scope to comprehend the ways of Hashem, but is there some way that we could understand it on an elementary level?
For one, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Yes, when we were on our own land in Eretz Yisroel with the Bais Hamikdosh in our midst, we were on a much higher spiritual level. But apparently we did not appreciate it enough, for if we had the proper appreciation, we never would have allowed it to be taken from us. One pays a high price for a commodity only when he realizes its true value. Had we realized its real worth, we would have been moser nefesh to uproot any evil from our midst and to perfect our ways so that the Shechinah would continue to dwell amongst us. The lengthy golus and the travails we face strengthen our longing for geulah. Only through the years of hunger can we fully appreciate those years of abundance. It must spur us on to ready ourselves for those days that can arrive at any moment.
Secondly, although we are on a much lower plane in golus, the levels that we do acquire are more deeply ingrained within us. Because of the intense darkness, we are forced to grope for the rays of light on our own. Because of the hardships, we must struggle to attain our spiritual assets. The knowledge and the middos we attain in this manner are much more deeply rooted within us and this creates a more profound relationship with Hashem.
There is a group of houses in a development in Lakewood, NJ, each one with a tree growing in front of it. During Hurricane Sandy, some of these trees were uprooted and blown over, while others stood their ground. A thinking individual wondered why this was so. They were all planted at the same time, all in the same area, and they all faced the same wind. Why was it that some survived the storm while others didn’t?
After a bit of investigating, the mystery was solved. Some of the trees had a built-in automatic sprinkler system, while others didn’t. The trees that fell over were the ones with the sprinkler system. Why? Because during the times when it didn’t rain and the water was sparse, the trees without the sprinkler systems had to search for water. Thus, their roots spread deeper into the ground, giving the tree a much more solid foundation. Even the violent winds of Sandy could not budge them. Not so the trees with the sprinkler system. They constantly had water available to them and had no need to search further for water. They were therefore not anchored firmly enough to withstand the storm (heard from R’ Avi Shulman).
People have a tendency to avoid challenges. In 21st century America, with all of the technological advances and the many amenities available, our physical lives are much easier than in previous generations. There are so many perks and comforts at our fingertips that we expect our ruchniyus to come to us easily as well. The Chasam Sofer said: “If the answer to a kasha quickly comes to my head, then I immediately discard it, for it did not come through ameilus.”
It is the same with everything relating to ruchniyus. It requires hard work, patience and perseverance. This applies to raising our children as well. If they don’t progress at a given time the way we expect them to, we are disappointed and even panic-stricken. Like growing a delicate plant, the chinuch of our children takes nurturing,tolerance, and a lot of davening for favorable deep-rooted results. Just as the struggles Klal Yisroel faces elevate its level as a people, so do the personal challenges that each individual faces. We mustn’t let the nisyonos discourage us, for they are sent to us from Shomayim to refine us and make us great.
Rav Avrohom Eliyahu Meizes was a talmid of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slutzk and even served as a maggid shiur in his yeshiva. He was a prolific talmid chochom and oveid Hashem. Unfortunately, he was trapped behind the Iron Curtain under the treacherous Soviet regime. Despite the communists’ efforts to uproot Torah and mitzvos from their midst, he worked tirelessly and fearlessly to spread the word of Hashem wherever he could. He made sure to supply his brethren with all of their needs in Yiddishkeit despite the fact that for him it meant certain imprisonment.
After being sent off to Siberia, where he suffered terribly at the hands of his oppressors, he was finally freed and he made it to Yerushalayim. Now he would be able to spend the rest of his life immersed in the Torah that he so loved. However, when he finally sat down to learn, he was shocked to find that he had forgotten all of his learning. The years of suffering at the hands of the Russians had taken their toll on him. The moment this dawned upon him he broke out in deep and bitter crying which lasted for a while. But the moment he stopped crying and the tears subsided, he was once again astounded to find that the Torah that he toiled upon for so many years came back to him.
Who knows? Perhaps the collective crying that we do when the geulah finally comes will bring back those levels of kedushah that Klal Yisroel had lost throughout the long and difficult golus. We will then merit experiencing the words of the novi, “For the world will be as filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the seabed” (Yeshayah 11:9).