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Too Sensitive

You may remember the movie A League of Their Own, about the women who played on national baseball leagues while men went off to serve in WWII.

There is a famous and unforgettable scene where Tom Hanks, who plays their coach, yells at one of the players, hurling insults and demeaning her-- her feelings are hurt and understandably, she begins to cry. He notices this and approaches her: “Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!”

Many of us have found ourselves in situations where we can relate to this player. Where we have been insulted and then chastised for being “too sensitive.”

Calling someone "too sensitive," is actually a time-tested tactic used to belittle and silence me.

Think back to a time when someone in your life has hurled the word “sensitive” in your direction. Perhaps someone made a joke that was in poor taste, and you articulated a response that indicated your offense, and they said, “don’t be so sensitive-- it was just a joke.” Or, perhaps you let your emotions flow, and someone handed you a kleenex not in a caring way, but in a way as to say, “Your crying needs to stop now.”

Or, perhaps someone along the line said to you, “Boys don’t cry.” And, you learned that crying was a sign of the weak, the emotionally unstable.

What was your reaction to their “observation”?

Being “sensitive” has, somewhere along the line, become seen as a bad thing. That “big girls don’t cry” and “real men don’t cry.” And that people should toughen up and suck it up and deal with it. Everyday, children are bullied for crying. Especially boys. They are told to “toughen up” or “man up” or “take it like a man.” And, never show emotion in public.

I read a story of a man in his mid-40s, whose 13 year old son was injured in a football game. The father rushed lovingly over to him and whispered in his ear “Don’t cry, don’t cry, wait until you get into the car and then you can cry.”

But, back in the days of the patriarchs, crying occurred frequently.

For example, I cannot imagine this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, to exist without a beautiful scene of weeping.

The setting is this:

Joseph had a beautiful coat and was his father’s favorite son. His 11 brothers were jealous and mercilessly threw him into a pit and left him for dead. After many years, they finally came face to face with one another as full grown adults. And what does Joseph do? Joseph cried out to them. The language used is:

 וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-קֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי;

Vayiten et kolo biv’chi. And he gave his voice in crying.

The text notes that from there, he was miraculously able to forgive them for their actions so long before.

And with that, he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them, and then his brothers were able to talk to him.

Can you imagine this scene without all of the crying?

The crying adds so much to the scene. Crying communicates emotions beyond what mere words fail to convey. Crying adds sincerity because it comes from a deep place. A place of truth. A place of realness. Crying shows a tender heart rather than a callous heart. It reveals the ability to empathize and connect with another person. In the Torah, it signals growth and transformation.

So, while there might not be crying in baseball, there most CERTAINLY IS crying in Torah.

I think of the relentless weeping and sobbing of Hannah in the Temple over being barren, to which her prayers are answered.

But SO many others cry as well:

Jacob, when he kissed Rachel and then when he thought his son Joseph was dead.

When their wives and children were taken captive, David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.

Mordecai cried with a loud and bitter cry at the decree to slay the Jewish people.

Egyptians weep, Israelites weep, and Moabites weep, too.

The Prophet Isaiah shares that both brave men cry aloud and peacemakers weep bitterly, at the destruction of Jerusalem.

All of these figures cry and more.

And, what does God do?

We are told in II Kings 20:5 that: God takes note of those who cry.

And, the Prophet Joel reminds us that God recognizes weeping as one of the purest forms of offering, and one of the purest forms of prayer.

In the Torah, expressing this type of emotion is the opposite of having a hardened heart-- and we know of the hard hearted Pharaoh who is obstinate and stubborn and a villain. Jewishly, there is no shame in crying. Indeed, the Torah sees being tender-hearted as a virtue not a vice.

There was a time when secular society appreciated sensitivity, too. Tom Lutz, author of the 1999 book Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, teaches that in the 18th century, it was not only acceptable, but expected for men and women to cry: "If you didn't cry at the theater or didn't cry at the opera, it meant that you were some kind of lower class boor."

Society still sends messages everyday that men don’t cry and shouldn’t cry. Though crying is making its way back into acceptability.

In the world we live in today, there is much to cry over. Millions of people around the world have died from COVID-19. White supremacy is on the rise. Children and parents have been separated from one another. If we are not crying about these facts, who are we?

God is no stranger to weeping at tragedy as well. The Rabbis reveal in a Midrash that God wept when the Temple was destroyed. In this way, weeping not only reveals our humanity, but also the Divine spark that we were created with-- our connection with the events around us and with those around us.

So, reveal your sensitivity if you need to, and have no shame in it. We are human and life is not all roses and lilies-- the human experience is one of triumph and struggle, beauty and pain, growth and learning. Be sensitive by birth, but also by choice. And, know always, that there IS crying in Torah. And, we are not alone.

The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27 . Please visit to subscribe and follow on social media.

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