Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to get provisions because there was famine in the land of Cannan. They saw Joseph, but they did not recognize him. He, however, recognized them, and Joseph put a number of obstacles in their way, making things quite difficult for his brothers. After several trips by the brothers from Israel to Mitzrayim, there finally came the moment when Joseph could no longer hide his identity.
The Torah tells us: “Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants…” (Bereshit 45:1). There are other verses that show how Joseph made an effort to control his emotions. Recall the previous parasha: “He turned away from them and wept. But he came back and spoke to them…” (Bereshit 42:24). “With that, Joseph hurried out, for he was overcome with feeling toward his brother and was on the verge of tears; he went into a room and wept there. Then he washed his face, reappeared, and – now in control of himself – gave the order, ‘Serve the meal.’” (Bereshit 43: 30-31).
Time and again, Joseph tried not to show his emotions. Thus, we can ask this question. If he was so moved to see his brothers, why did he not reveal his identity from the outset? There are those who reason that he wanted to test them. Others think that he wanted to fluster them, wanting some revenge for what they had done to him previously. Perhaps Joseph simply did not have the courage to express his powerful emotions to his brothers.
This Biblical situation is applicable to everyday life. How many times do we struggle to hide what we are feeling, to conceal our emotions both from ourselves and our loved ones?
Frequently, society conveys the impression that expressing emotions is a sign of weakness; we should be rational, thoughtful and not motivated by mere sentiment. Men especially are taught not to cry, to the extent that many believe that men really do not cry!
Numerous psychologists have pointed out that, one way or another, these emotions that we try to hide break through. The walls we build to control our emotions break down in many different ways; sometimes we fall ill, sometimes we become angry, and sometimes we cannot sleep.
The ideal would be to do what Joseph finally does in this parasha: “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear…” (Bereshit 45:2). In other words, we need to allow ourselves to cry and show our emotions, expressing our genuine feelings to our loved ones.
May it be G-d’s will that we learn and teach our children the best way to express their emotions, letting them know, that rather than a sign of weakness, it is a demonstration of great strength to honestly express themselves.
Rabbi Daniela Szuster