Invisible Tears

…and he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself…

                        Gen. 43:30-31


Where are… the yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained?

Is. 63:15


As I’ve been preparing my post on Shavuot, the situation in Israel has been becoming graver and graver by the hour. Therefore, instead of a regular Shavuot article, I was led to publish an excerpt from my book about Israel, “If You Are Son of God, Come Down from the Cross”. I hope that through this post. some of you will get answers from the Lord – as years ago, through this book He answered my questions.


The Inner Room


Remember how in Genesis 43 the eleven brothers, having traveled to Egypt together with Benjamin, now stand before Joseph? Ten of them had already been here before and this whole scene was an unpleasant déjà vu for them. Benjamin, on the other hand, laying eyes for the first time on the one about whom he had heard so much, with open curiosity examines this strange man. Who is he? Why has he been so insistent on his, Benjamin’s, coming? And what is even more peculiar, now that Benjamin has finally come, why does he not even bother to look at him?


Yes, Joseph, who doubtlessly had noticed Benjamin from the second he entered, continues to converse with the others as if unaware of the newcomer. With all his might he refrains from looking over at that brother before the right time comes, because he knows that when he does, he will no longer be able to speak—he will be unable to resist being swept away by the wave of emotions that overpower him. Only after all the obligatory words of welcome are pronounced does he allow himself, for the first time, to look fully upon his mother’s son. He allows himself to lift his eyes and see his brother Benjamin36 and to look, forgetting everything and everyone, absorbing these infinitely dear features … Now his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph… sought somewhere to weep.[1]

The description of Joseph’s feelings is acutely intense in Hebrew:

Now his heart yearned for his brother (כי-נכמרו רחמיו אל-אחיו

This is one of the strongest if not the strongest, expressions in Tanach to describe the feelings which permeate a loving person. When King Solomon, for example, was determining the mother of the infant and made as if to have the child divided in two with the sword, it is said of the real mother: She yearned with compassion for her son[2] (נכמרו רחמיה אל-בניה).


This same phrase is used several times in Tanach to describe God’s love for Israel: ‘Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,’ says the LORD.[3] Remarkably, the word רחמיה/רחמיו can be translated as “womb” (in this sense we get the term heart, as that innermost part of us), but also as compassion, mercy, or lovingkindness. It is the combination of these two meanings that defines that deep-down love that besieges Joseph’s soul. It describes the emotion with which Joseph is overcome, like a wave swallowing him from head to foot. Now his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep.33


Now, try to see this entire scene through the eyes of the brothers. Try to imagine for yourself their puzzlement when this grim and arrogant Egyptian governor (this is probably how they would have perceived him), having already repeatedly bewildered them, unexpectedly right in the middle of their conversation, without any explanation and for no apparent reason, turns and strides quickly, or all but runs, toward the exit. So Joseph made haste.33 Occupied with themselves and their business, the brothers are light-years away from the real reason forcing Joseph to make haste. Not one of them, including Benjamin, has the slightest idea what is really going on in the heart of this “Egyptian” lord, or how his heart yearned for his brother.[4]  The brothers do not see the heart-breaking scene that you and I do: and he went into his chamber and wept there.33 They have no idea that in his inner room,  Joseph is weeping out of love: the gap between how they perceive the circumstances and what is really going on in the invisible reality of that chamber, is immense.


It is difficult to imagine a more graphic or expressive illustration of the difference between the seen and unseen. We the readers easily understand that it is in his chamber that we see the true Joseph, weeping out of love in this inner room,[5] and for a brief moment it might seem to us that the game is over. Now, we think hopefully, wiping his tears, Joseph will emerge from his room and rush over to Benjamin, give him a bear hug, and reveal himself. I am convinced that this was exactly what Joseph wanted to do more than anything else in the world. It is perfectly natural to expect this from a person who finally sees a beloved brother from whom he has been  separated for many years. However, Joseph represents here the mystery of God’s love, the amazing and supernatural love, which holds back the tears of the inner room. Joseph cannot reveal himself to the brothers until his plan is completed, until God’s work in the hearts of the story’s participants is finalized. For this reason, what does he do upon leaving his chamber? Completely the opposite of what we might expect and what he might personally want to do, he washed his face so that his tears would not be seen, so that there would be no trace of that love, and came out; and he restrained himself… (ויתאפק).[6]


Remember this word restrained, remember these tears of love that Joseph had to hold back. We will see this word once again in chapter 45, where Joseph could not restrain himself and revealed himself to the brothers.  Let us picture these two points. One point corresponds to what we have just read: “and he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself… (ויתאפק)”[7]; the other point is the story’s conclusion: “then Joseph could not restrain himself… (להתאפק) and he wept aloud”…[8] From math class in school, we remember that two points can be connected by an infinite number of lines, but only one of them will be straight, and that is exactly what we see in our story. The two points are connected by, not one, but two lines. One visible, circuitous line, the view purposefully revealed to the brothers, follows the observable surface of the day’s events: the restrained Joseph’s instruction to put the cup into Benjamin’s sack, the brothers’ exit, the stop and the search, the return to the city, the conversation with Joseph, the speech of Judah sacrificing himself for Benjamin’s sake, and finally the tears of Joseph, not restraining himself as he reveals himself to his brothers.


There is a second line, however, one hidden and invisible to the natural eye but visible to a reader: the straight segment directly connecting the Joseph who weeps in secret in the inner room with the Joseph openly sobbing violently, who tearfully reveals himself to his brothers. The word translated into English as restrained himself is the Hebrew word להתאפק, meaning to hold back or control oneself. The tears of love that are held back and hidden in the inner room at our first point are revealed to a full degree at the second point, when Joseph could not restrain himself any longer.


We become witnesses to the Author’s conscientiously and purposefully built inconsistency between these two lines: between what the participants of the story see and what the reader knows and sees. Most profound of all, we discover love to be the secret so thoroughly hidden from the story’s participants, but shown to us by the Author. In the Book of Job, the Lord loved Job – but until the end of the book, this fact was hidden from both Job himself, as well as from his judgmental comforter-friends. In our story, Joseph loved Benjamin but again until the very end of the story, this love is hidden from Benjamin himself, and from his brothers. Only the reader who sees the Prologue in Heaven or the tears of Joseph in his chamber, knows without a shadow of a doubt that everything happening to both Job and Benjamin testifies to the special election and special love that has placed them in the center of the plan. Only the reader knows that both Joseph himself and his love for his brother remain unchanged all along the invisible dotted line and that the Joseph who causes Benjamin pain by putting the cup in his bag and accusing him of theft, loves him not a fraction less than the Joseph who weeps on his neck. The only difference is that, before Joseph had finished his plan with the brothers, he restrained himself, withholding his love for Benjamin in the same way that the Lord had restrained and withheld His mercy until He finished His work in the heart of Job and in the hearts of his comforters.


[1] Gen. 43:30

[2] 1 Kings 3:26; the NASB translates this phrase as, ‘She was deeply stirred over her son.’

[3] Jer. 31:20

[4] Gen. 43:30

[5] In Hebrew, the word translated as “his chamber” from Gen. 43:30 (החררה), uses the definite article, indicating that Joseph probably went into a special, private room, or “inner room”, as the expression of choice in our text.

[6] Gen. 43:31

[7] Gen 43:30-31

[8] Gen. 45:1-2


As always,  I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our wonderful courses  (

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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