Real leaders cry (Vayigash)

There is no doubt that one of the most emotional moments throughout the Torah occurs in Parshat Vayigash when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. Yet it is noteworthy that even before Yosef famously declares ‘I am Yosef – is my father still alive?’, Yosef begins to cry (Bereishit 45:3).

Interestingly, this is not the only time that Yosef cries during this encounter. He cries when he embraces Binyamin (Bereishit 45:14), and he again cries when he kisses the rest of his brothers (Bereishit 45:15).

In fact, a full survey of the life of Yosef reveals that he regularly cried. He cries when he chooses Shimon from amongst the brothers to hold him as a hostage (see Bereishit 42:24); he cries when he sees Binyamin for the first time (see Bereishit 43:30); he cries when he is reunited with his father Yaakov (see Bereishit 46:29); he cries when Yaakov dies (see Bereishit 50:1), and he cries when informed that Yaakov wanted Yosef to forgive his brothers (see Bereishit 50:17).

Though each of these moments were clearly very emotional, the fact that the Torah records how Yosef cries on eight separate occasions is very significant – as is the fact that no mention is made that Yosef’s brothers – with the exception of Binyamin – cried, and this observation leads Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (Oznaim LaTorah, Bereishit 45:15) to make the following powerful remark:

Someone who suffers greatly during difficult times – their tears remain with them even in their days of peace and when they themselves achieve greatness. Yet the brothers – who did not suffer during their lives – did not cry even when their situation was deserving of crying, while we find that Yosef regularly cried even for the difficulties of others. It was for this reason that Yosef merited to achieve greatness.’

What we learn from this explanation and from the life of Yosef is that rather than crying being a sign of weakness, it is a sign and source of greatness, and from this we can learn some important leadership lessons.

All too often, leaders seem to think that their task is to hold back their emotions for the sake of strong leadership. But what we learn from Yosef’s example is the importance of leaders expressing their feelings and showing their emotions, because truly great leaders are those who truly care.


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