The wisest of men said there is a time to weep, which implies that there will be occasions when weeping is inappropriate. Though King Solomon's exact words were there is a time to weep and a time to laugh,1 obviously there are times when other responses are called for. Clearly, life is not simply about crying or laughing.
This week's parshah relates the story of Joseph's dramatic reunion with his brothers. Though he embraces them all, he reserves his deepest emotions for his only full brother, Benjamin. Joseph was separated from his brothers when Benjamin was a mere child, and Benjamin was the only one who was not involved in the plot against Joseph. Theirs was, therefore, an exceptional embrace:
And he (Joseph) fell on his brother Benjamin's neck and cried, and Benjamin cried on his neck (Genesis 45:14).
Rashi, quoting the Talmud,2 explains that for both brothers, their cries were, beyond the powerful feelings of the moment, nothing short of prophetic. Joseph wept over the two Temples of Jerusalem, destined for destruction, which were in the land apportioned to the tribe of Benjamin. And Benjamin cried over the Sanctuary at Shilo, located in the land apportioned to the tribe of Joseph, which would also be destroyed.
The question is why: are they each crying over the other's churban (destruction)? Why do they not cry over their own destructions?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that when it comes to someone else's problem, we may be able to help but we cannot solve other people's problems. Even good friends can only do so much. We can offer generous assistance, support and the best advice in the world, but the rest is up to him or her. No matter how strenuous our efforts, there can be no guarantee that they will be successful. As hard as we may try to help, the individual alone holds the key to sort out his or her own situation.
So, if we are convinced that we have done our absolute best for the other person and have still failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution, the only thing we can do is shed a tear. We can pray for them, we can be sympathetic. Beyond that, there is really nothing else we can do. When we have tried and failed, all we can do is cry.
But when it comes to our own problems and challenges, our own churban, there we dare not settle for a good cry. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up and weeping. If it is our problem, then it is our duty to confront it again and again until we make it right. For others we can cry; but for ourselves we must act.
Sixty years ago, the great spiritual leaders of Europe were counting their losses — in the millions! The great Chassidic courts of Poland, the prestigious yeshivas of Lithuania, were all destroyed by the Nazi hordes. What did these righteous people do? Did they sit down and cry? Of course there were tears and mourning and indescribable grief, but the emphasis quickly shifted to rebuilding. And today, thank G‑d, those same institutions are alive and well, thriving and pulsating with spirit and energy in Israel and the United States. The leadership focused on the future. And painstakingly, over time, they were able to resuscitate and rejuvenate their decimated communities.
Those leaders cried bitter tears for their fallen comrades, but for themselves they did not sit and weep. They set about the task of rebuilding — and succeeded in the most inspiring, miraculous way.
When we have problems (and who doesn't?), so many of us simply moan and sigh and heave a good old-fashioned yiddishe krechtz (Jewish groan). How many times have we sighed, What can I do? And what does that leave us with? — with the moaning and groaning and nothing else. In the words of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, One good deed is worth more than a thousand sighs.
Leave the krechtzing for others. If it's your problem, confront it, deal with it, work at it. You'll be surprised by the results.
2. Megilla 16b.