With all the “firsts” that are introduced in Genesis (read much more in Meir Shalev’s beautiful book), crying is definitely one worth looking into. Abraham cried for Sarah, Joseph will cry with his siblings, the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, share with us some of the Torah’s most moving cries, as do Leah and Rachel. For those of us who were raised with the mantras such as “crying is for babies”, “be quiet, real man / grown-up women don’t cry”, this is refreshing, if not inspiring.
We start with Esau’s cry of last week. The Torah tells us it was an “exceedingly loud and very bitter cry”, and we can hear his anger battling and masking the tears. Esau prefers to be angry rather than deal with his feelings. Is that his parents fault too? Did they tell him to be a man? A hunter? Or did he just know by himself that in his line of work there is no room for being a “softy”? His struggle with emotions happened before, when he “despised the birthright” after he sold it, but not before. Rather than feeling regretful or sad, he opted for telling himself this is worthless anyway. At the end of last week’s portion, he is standing in front of Isaac, who just finished giving Jacob the blessing. As he cries, he says, “Bless me too, my father!” and even we, thousands of years away, can feel his pain.
Jacob’s cry this week seems completely different: He is at the famous well, where his mother was chosen for his father, and behold, “while he was still speaking with the shepherds, there came Rachel with her father’s sheep… And when Jacob saw Rachel… he stepped up and caused the stone to roll off the mouth of the well and watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel and he raised his voice and he cried” (Genesis 29:9-11).
I’m trying to picture the scene: The well. The shepherds. A powerful man who just rolled off a stone so big and cumbersome that it takes all the shepherds together to move. A beautiful girl. A kiss. And tears. The same strong man is now wailing, next to the lovely woman he is about to marry. Wow.
Why is he crying? I think he knew right then and there, that even though he and Rachel are such a good match, their relationship is never going to be completely actualized. At that very moment, Esau’s cry is haunting him. The Midrash tells us that Lavan’s two daughters were intended for Isaac and Rebekah’s two sons: the elder girl for the elder boy and the younger daughter for the younger son. Thus, Esau was supposed to marry Leah, and Rachel – Jacob. Leah spent her days crying over her terrible fate and Jacob spent his days making sure he gets the birthright, rather than leaving it for Esau. Both got what they wanted, which was all fine, until Jacob met Rachel, who encompassed everything he was giving up by fighting for what he believed was right.
I’m glad to be on same page with Rashi on this one who just says it in his own cryptic way: “For he (Jacob) had a spiritual realization that she (Rachel) is not going to be buried with him”, that is to say, from very early on, before Lavan tricks him, before labor, before anything, something has already gone terribly wrong in the potential of this relationship to mature. Not that I think Jacob could have done it any other way, but that does not prevent him from feeling the full weight of his decision. For giving us that complexity of life and feelings, I am forever grateful.
The sisters in their turn cry too: Leah whom we mentioned already cried so much that she might be the source for the idiom “cried her eyes out”. Genesis 29:17 says that her eyes were soft. The Midrash tells us that she cried over not wanting to marry Esau, which affected her beauty.
Preview to how does this all end? Well, Jacob, who loved Rachel so much he was willing to work for her 14 years, ends up loving Leah and making her his main wife. Leah’s tears turn to joy, while Rachel’s laughter eventually turns to tears. The story is so fascinating that there is not enough space to delve into all of its nuances even in the whole world-wide-web. For today, what I’m happy with most is that the Torah is not just about cold laws but about the full range of emotional existence that each and every one has. If we learn from Abraham to be hospitable and from Moses to be humble, maybe we can learn from Jacob and his family to cry some every so often too.