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Shifting the Clutter

Rabbi Yehuda Septimus

I was standing right near the doors on a crowded train back to Rosedale from the city on Tuesday afternoon. A VERY crowded train. Next to me stood a man with two boys. The younger of the two boys was complaining incessantly to his father that he was tired and his legs were hurting. The complaints mounted, only rising in volume. The travelers were getting annoyed. The father was getting mortified. And boy didn't really care about anything other than the fact that he was tired. 

As I looked around at this train stuffed with miserable people squashed against one another, I noticed the women standing on the other side of me had one of those large sized wheely suitcases. It had a handbag on it, and her husband stood next to her with a smaller wheely suitcases. In a moment of what some might call nosiness I turned to the woman and said to her, would you perhaps like to ask this little boy whether he’d like to sit on your suitcase?

The woman's face immediately lit up. She put the handbag on her husband's suitcase and asked the boy whether he'd like to sit on her suitcase. The father put him up on the suitcase, holding the happy boy’s hand to make sure he wouldn't fall off. The father’s relief was palpable – as was the boy's, as was the relief of the people who were no longer listening to a crying, complaining boy.

What happened on that train? What had happened is that we were all standing in a cluttered space.  And our MINDS were cluttered -- with discomfort and troubling complaints. One tiny shift of that clutter changed everything.

What is true on the train is true in the brain. Move some clutter around, and new opportunities arise, possibilities we simply could not see before.  

After revealing himself to the brothers Yosef cries. 

.טו.  וַיְנַשֵּׁק לְכָל-אֶחָיו, וַיֵּבְךְּ עֲלֵהֶם; וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן, דִּבְּרוּ אֶחָיו אִתּוֹ 
15. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them; and after that his brethren talked with him.

But we have already been told of his crying twice before in this same scene. The first time is immediately after he reveals himself to them.

.ב.  וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹה    
2. And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard.

When Yosef first reveals himself to the brothers they are dumbfound and can't speak. Yosef jumps in with a long speech about how they should not beat themselves up for their moral failures, seeing that it was clearly the Hand of Providence that led Yosef down to Egypt. But after that long speech, Yosef lays eyes on his younger brother Binyamin, for the first time in his revealed state as Yosef:

.יד.  וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוְּארֵי בִנְיָמִן-אָחִיו, וַיֵּבְךְּ; וּבִנְיָמִן--בָּכָה, עַל-צַוָּארָיו 
14. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.

Only now, after crying with Binyamin, does Yosef cry a second time, and this time Yosef succeeds in bringing the brothers out of their state of dumbfounded shock: וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן, דִּבְּרוּ אֶחָיו אִתּוֹ. Clearly something different is happening this second time that Yosef cries. What is it?

The Or HaChaim provides an answer to our question. The first time Yosef cries, his tears are the tears of regret and pain over the way he was treated by his brothers. The second time he cried, the Or HaChaim explains, Yosef was, for the first time, shedding tears of brotherly love. 

Until this moment, he was so overwhelmed by emotional clutter that he could not experience a most basic human emotion – love. When he was a child, he was consumed by a desire to be respected by his brothers. When they returned to Mitzrayim, he was consumed by a desire to exact revenge or to determine whether they had grown at all from what they had done. Only once he separated himself from this emotional clutter was Yosef able to see what was he free to feel – the love.

Similarly, in that moment of Yosef's revelation, the brothers were flooded by emotions and paralyzed by fear. Rightly, they did not know what to make of Yosef's initial tears. But when they saw Yosef move from his tears of pure brotherly love for Binyamin to tears of pure brotherly love for them, something even more amazing happened; Yosef's ability to clear his own emotional clutter became contagious. And it catalyzed the brothers’ return to a reality of being able to relate to Yosef in return. Such is the potential of a moment of emotional clarity on our parts; it can create emotional clearings for those around us as well.

We all have clutter that can blind us to what we might otherwise see, whether large or small.  Large...  like the parent whose fear of their child’s unruliness blinds them to the unique qualities their child possesses. Or like the entrepreneur whose fixation on lost opportunities blinds her to the opportunities that she herself can create. Or like the employee whose resentment of his boss's harshness blinds him to the potential the boss sees in him that motivates their tough stance. Or small... like the clutter of a train full of uncomfortable people too deafened by the cacophony of a boy's complaints to see the solution to his complaints right before him.

We all can become blinded by clutter. Seeing opportunities clearly requires a flexible attitude toward our own mental, emotional, and spiritual states. We will never eliminate all our clutter. But just an openness to making minor shifts in our internal frames of reference can pave the way for real change. The moment we embrace a reality of shifting and shift-able inner realities a new world of possibility awaits us.

Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784