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B'resheet/Genesis 43:40 And Yosef was quick, for his feelings were warmed towards his brother and he was about to weep
The Hebrew text contains two idioms here that we need to understand. The verb , a Ni'fal affix 3mp form from the root , is most often connected with warming or burning food although it can be used for plaiting or braiding.Rashi gives several examples of the way the word is used: in the Mishnah, the phrase - on the komer of olives - refers to a vessel where olives are heated to soften them for oil extraction (b. Bava Metzia 74a); the Talmud uses a related Aramaic word - the meat becoming warm (b. Pesachim 58a); in the book of Lamentations, the verse - our skin, like an oven, was scorched (Lamentations 5:10). Sarna points out that the two words only occurs in one other place in the Tanakh during the story of King Solomon arbitrating between two mothers over the living child - "The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son" (1 Kings 3:26, NIV) - where they mean "to have compassion for".
Sarna also helps us out with the second idiom by explaining that - a 3ms vav-conversive Pi'el form of the root , apparently only used in the Pi'el or Pu'al stems - should be translated "on the verge of". He adds, "The root in post-biblical Hebrew (i.e. m. Yoma 1:7) and its Aramaic equivalent (i.e. Daniel 2:13) often carry the meaning 'to be about to'." So instead of the impression that Yosef wanted or needed to cry, the strength of his emotions was such that he was unable to prevent himself from weeping any longer.
Hirsch takes us one step further with by noting that a plural form of the word - - is used (in 2 Kings 23:5 and Zephaniah 1:14) to refer to idolatrous priests, that offered sacrifices to idols. Without any true spirituality, they have to rely on heating up the emotions to produce a religious feeling, while the true priests - - do not need to stir up emotional heat; they have the reality of covenant relationship with the One True G-d to inspire their worship and service.
The Gospels show us a number of occasions when Yeshua showed varying degrees of emotion and had compassion on the people around Him. Early in His ministry, He came ashore from a boat and "When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36, CJB); on another occasion, "when there was a great multitude and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples and said to them, 'I feel compassion for the multitude because they have remained with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away hungry to their home, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a distance'" (Mark 8:1-3, NASB). Yeshua's compassion moved Him to raising the dead: "The next day Yeshua, accompanied by His talmidim and a large crowd, went to a town called Na'im. As He approached the town gate, a dead man was being carried out for burial. His mother was a widow, this had been her only son, and a sizeable crowd from the town was with her. When the L-rd saw her, He felt compassion for her and said to her, 'Don't cry'" (Luke 7:11-13, CJB) and healing the people who cried out to Him: "And moved with compassion, Yeshua touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him" (Matthew 20:34, NASB) even if that involved touching people, coming into contact with ritual impurity or sharing their emotions. When Lazarus, the brother of Marta and Miryam, the family in Bethany where He had stayed and taught several times, died, the text tells that - even though Yeshua knew that He was about to raise Lazarus back to life - He so identified with the weeping sisters that He wept (John 11:35). He also told stories where His characters displayed similar compassion, so that they helped others in the same way that He did: "But a man from Shomron who was traveling came upon him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. So he went up to him, put oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. Then he set him on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him" (Luke 10:33-34, CJB).
Here there is no whipped up false emotion, but a moving or warming of Yeshua's spirit in mercy and compassion for the people with whom He interacts. Where there is a need, He is aware of it and moves to satisfy that need; where a supernatural touch is required, He does not shrink from providing it or withhold healing. In fact, on no less than three occasions Matthew tells us that Yeshua healed everyone who had come to Him (4:24, 8:16, 12:15). Not allowing demons to speak or to create a fuss, He simply spoke with plain authority to cast them out and release the people whom they were oppressing. While clearly miraculous, so that people were amazed at His authority and power, there is no mention whatever of hysteria or wild uncontrolled displays of emotion; Yeshua's ministry was almost shockingly matter of fact and down to earth.
Our text from the parasha tells us that Yosef was quick - he hurried through the formalities - so that he could leave the room because his compassion had been aroused. Similarly, with the exception of a deliberate postponement before going to raise Lazarus, Yeshua never delayed ministering to people who cried out to Him or came to Him. He wasn't so concerned with formalities but directly asked people, "What is that you want Me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32); He spoke immediately into their need. He calls us to do the same and to be moved with compassion for those we see around us and who He places in our path.
Visiting Jerusalem, a high point for any Jew, Yeshua was struck by the needs of the city and moved by His prophetic vision of the destruction that was to be brought on the city in only 40 short years time, He showed compassion by weeping. "When Yeshua had come closer and could see the city, He wept over it, saying, 'If you only knew today what is needed for shalom! But for now it is hidden from your sight. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will set up a barricade around you, encircle you, hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within your walls, leaving not one stone standing on another - and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when G-d offered it!'" (Luke 19:41-44, CJB). Jerusalem failed to act when it had the option to do so. Over generations, in spite of the prophets being sent to speak and warn the people of the city, they failed to act so that finally a time of judgement would come. We too are called to act, to seize the moment when it presents itself and make the Kingdom of G-d a reality in our day.
Further Study: Psalm 119:57-60; Daniel 9:24; Luke 13:34-35
Application: How can you overcome inertia in your life? Ask G-d to help you be warmed with His compassion and then to act or speak as the Spirit leads you to address the situations He shows you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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