“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” James Baldwin
We are all different. However, the angst of living as a human being is one that each of us understands. No matter the circumstance, privilege, joy, and story that we carry with us, there is a certain torment to this journey of life. For me, this underlying condition can feel daunting and overwhelming at times. When lost in these depths, I look to Torah to find lessons that remind me of a higher power, a greater truth.
In this week’s Torah Portion, Vayigash, the lesson of authenticity is blatantly revealed as we near the end of the epic narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph is now living as the second in command of Egypt. He dresses like an Egyptian, and he has power, wealth, respect, and is on top of the world. Yet, while presenting well externally, internally he is in deep pain and suffering. We see this in our text, which twice so far in the narrative has mentioned his tears shed in private. However, this week it is with a third wail that there is a complete shift in his behavior:
Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!” So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph.” (Genesis 45:1-3)
It is with this third sob – this gut-wrenching and all-consuming cry – that he finally releases himself from the lie that he has been living, and he begins to live his truth. “I am Joseph,” he says. I am your brother. I am the boy who was frightened in a dark pit, who fought for my life, who has been living with resentment and confusion, who misses you all, who is Jewish. And I am also now this Egyptian royal figure – I am both of these men. With this deep cry suddenly these two Josephs are no longer separate but instead, one integrated person.
The Rashbam, a medieval commentator, states: “Joseph could not control himself any longer, for up until now, everything he did was so that he could control himself in his heart.” Joseph kept his guard up to protect his outer identity as well as his inner self. This moment, however, reveals that Joseph could no longer manipulate the situation and exist in a split – he could no longer be the son of Jacob who cried in isolation or Egyptian royalty, distant from himself. It is in this cry that he is finally able to be who he truly is: both of these individuals. He is Joseph.
Each of us wears multiple hats and costumes – life trains us to do this and expects it. Sometimes the hats and costumes are necessary as a form of self-preservation, but being all sorts of different people can erode us internally. At Beit T’Shuvah our answer is to lean into the discomfort of finding a way to integrate the many pieces of ourselves so that we may exist as we are – authentic and whole. This task is not for the faint of heart – just look at Joseph’s painful process. For many of us integration will present us with moments that are difficult, and maybe even with tears or a wail that the entire world can hear. However, once we can be who we are in all the ways that we need to be, and we are able to own our unique voice, the possibilities are endless. And in this place our healing can truly begin.