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B'resheet/Genesis 45:2 And he gave his voice in weeping; and Egypt heard and the house of Pharaoh heard.
After hearing Judah's plea on behalf of Benjamin and offering to give himself in his place so that Benjamin can return to their father Ya'akov, Yosef can no longer control himself in front of his staff and orders them all to leave him alone with his brothers. Then twenty years of pent-up emotions come bursting out of him as he reveals himself as Yosef to his eleven brothers. RabbiHirsch says that "the expression implies that he gave it free rein, kept it back no longer." The NJPS translation renders the first phrase of the text as "His sobs were so loud". Yosef had previously succeeded, Avivah Zornberg tells us, "despite his yearning and his tears, in holding himself in strength; now, he cannot keep himself firm in his resolve ... in a startling moment of collapse, Yosef rejoins the human race."1
Now, this isn't the first time that Yosef has wept when meeting his brothers; it has happened twice before (42:24 and 42:30). Gordon Wenham suggests that on those occasions he had "managed to hide it from them. Now he sends out his attendants in order to make this a personal family occasion in which they could speak freely about the past without it becoming public knowledge. Nevertheless, the news soon reached the palace."2 Just like celebrities today, Gunther Plaut observes; "Yosef failed in his attempt to keep his emotions a private matter. Then, as now, people in high office were news." Bruce Waltke asserts that "This is the third time Yosef weeps. Each time he loses more control of his tender emotions towards his brothers. These emotional outbursts give expression to his true identity with the elect family beneath his Egyptian veneer and release Yosef's pent-up emotions."3
How did Yosef's secret become so widely known? TheRadak says that, "The Egyptians who he ordered out of the room heard him sobbing, and the news travelled from person to person until it reached the palace: 'Yosef if crying!'" As Hirsch comments, "This, in itself, is a sign of his high position, the whole land, the whole court participate in an event of which nothing further was yet known than that Yosef had broken out into loud weeping." No wonder - when Yosef, the grand-vizier himself, the one who has even now "gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations" (B'resheet 47:14, NJPS), who has then "provided them with bread that year in exchange for all their livestock" (v. 17, NJPS) and is finally gaining "possession of all the farm land of Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them" (v. 20, NJPS) to reduce the people to servitude to Pharoah, cries in public - that the whole of Egypt is shocked. Nahum Sarna reports that "the report was quickly bruited about so that it reached the court" so that, as Rashi comments, "the house of Pharaoh, that is to say, his servants and the members of his household" all heard, as well as all "the inhabitants of the city" ( Rashbam).
Loud, heartfelt cries of desperation have both a piercing quality and a startling affect. Let's consider some of the occasions when people cried out and what happened as a result. Several generations later, when "a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef" (Shemot 1:8, NJPS), the Israelites were themselves reduced to the position of slaves within the land where they had once been honoured guests. Now forced into slave labour and with their male children being threatened with being thrown into the Nile, the Torah tells us that "the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to G-d. And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitz'khak, and with Ya'akov. G-d saw the people of Israel -- and G-d knew" (2:23-25, ESV). The people cry out for help and rescue from slavery - here the verbs are , to sigh or groan, and , to call for help - and G-d hears and determines to respond: He will send a deliverer and the people will be set free. This is echoed when Rav Sha'ul describes how "the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth" (Romans 8:22, ESV) as it waits for the children of G-d to be revealed.
The prophet Zechariah looks forward to the day when the clans of Judah will be "like a blazing pot in the midst of wood, like a flaming torch among sheaves" (Zechariah 12:6, ESV), devouring all the surrounding peoples.HaShem Himself shall protect them and destroy all the nations that come to attack Jerusalem, but He will "pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn" (v. 10, ESV, so that Israel will weep and cry out as they recognise Yeshua, their Saviour and Messiah who was pierced and crucified. Israel will repent and so that "in that day a fountain shall be open to the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem for purging and cleansing" (13:1, NJPS). The people will be cleansed of all their sin and purified - sanctified - as the holy people of G-d.
The Synoptic Gospels all tell - albeit in slightly different forms - the story of Yeshua encountering the madman, the man possessed by a legion of demons, in the region east of the Kinneret, the Gadarene or Gerasene country. This man lived among the tombs, impossible to restrain because of his demonically inspired strength. Mark tells us that, "night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5, ESV). To whom was he crying out? To G-d, to anyone, who could release him from his hell on earth. Then he sees Yeshua from a distance and comes running to him, "crying out with a loud voice" (v. 7, ESV). Yeshua responds by casting out all the demons so that when the local people come to see what has been going on, the man is "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind" (v. 15, ESV), listening to Yeshua's teaching. He had cried out, nor necessarily even knowing what he was crying or to whom, but G-d heard his cries and knew what he needed.
Lastly, in his apocalyptic vision, John sees the Lamb opening the seals on the scroll from the hand of G-d. After the sixth seal is opened, John watches as, "the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'" (Revelation 6:15-17, ESV). This echoes the words of the people of Israel when their high places are destroyed - "they shall say to the mountains, 'Cover us,' and to the hills, 'Fall on us'" (Hosea 10:8, ESV) - and Yeshua's prophesy to the women weeping as He was taken out to Golgotha to be crucified: "they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us'" (Luke 23:30, ESV). In all three cases, people are looking to hide from the wrath of G-d and to escape His judgement, but their cry will not be heard for no-one can avoid G-d's wrath and judgement. Their cry, no matter how loud or long, will be in vain.
In his letter to the community in Rome, Rav Sha'ul encourages them to live in harmony with each other. Part of the process he identifies is to "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15, ESV). As others cry out for help, support and salvation, the community is to cry out with them that their voice may be amplified and heard by a wider audience. In our world today, many are crying out for the basic necessities of life: food, shelter and clothing; many are dispossessed and fleeing for their lives and for their faith, trying to escape persecution, torture and slavery. There are too many Pharaohs who kill the husbands and fathers and then oppress the widows and orphans and ignore their cries for mercy. As Yosef cried out so loudly in his outburst of emotion so that all the inhabitants of the city and all those in Pharaoh's palace heard - directly or indirectly - we need to cry out with or on behalf of others so that their voice can be heard. We need to help build public opinion so that effective pressure can be brought to bear on despots and dictators, on presidents and popes, on whoever needs to hear and bring relief to the afflicted. When we do, when we invoke the name our God and cry out in His name, we can be sure that we will be heard and that situations will change, as James said: "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16, ESV).
1. - Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis (New York, NY: \Three Leaves Press, 1996), pages 336-337.
2. - Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 427.
3. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), pages 562-563.
Further Study: 2 Kings 20:1-5; Acts 9:36-40
Application: What could you do to be an advocate for someone who is crying out so that governments and authorities will act to bring salvation and relief? How can you be a voice for the voiceless in our word so that even Pharaoh has to sit up and take notice?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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