The Torah portion Vayigash , in describing the poignant reunion of Yosef and Binyamin, relates:1 “And he [Yosef] fell on the neck of his brother Binyamin and he wept, and Binyamin wept on his [Yosef’s] neck.”

The Gemara comments:2 “Yosef wept for the two Holy Temples that were destined to be in the territory of Binyamin and were fated to be destroyed; Binyamin wept for the Tabernacle of Shiloh that was destined to be in the territory of Yosef and fated to be destroyed.”

Why did Yosef lament the fate of the Temples in Benyamin’s territory and Binyamin bemoan the destiny of the Tabernacle in Yosef’s territory; wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for each to cry about the destruction of their own Temples or Tabernacle? After all, a person loves himself more than all others.3

Moreover, a person’s own life takes precedence over the life of another. This is why, if one possesses only enough water for the survival of one person, so that by giving it to or sharing it with his fellow traveler he himself will surely die, he should keep it for himself, for “your own life takes precedence over the life of your friend.”4

The Zohar5 comments on the verse,6 “And he [Yosef] fell on his [Yaakov’s] neck and wept,” that Yosef wept about the destruction of the Holy Temples and the final exile. Why did only Yosef weep and not Yaakov?

Our Sages note7 that Yaakov did not weep because he was in the middle of reciting the Shema. But how could Yaakov have been so unmoved by the destruction of the Temples and the final exile as to be able to recite the Shema with devotion?

A person weeps mainly in order to feel better. Thus we observe that when one cries because something troubles him, the crying in no way changes the situation; one does, however, feel better about things after a good cry.

Understandably, if a person is able to solve the problem that is causing him so much pain, then rather than crying he should extricate himself from his difficult circumstances — “Better a single action than a thousand sighs.”8

When an individual witnesses the spiritual destruction of a friend — a destruction of that individual’s Holy Temple, since every Jew is a Temple to G‑d — he feels for him and cries. As a friend he can try to assist his comrade by gently admonishing him and praying for his welfare. In the final analysis, however, the rebuilding of his friend’s spiritual state depends on the friend himself.

When an individual has done all he can to help his friend, and observes that his friend’s spiritual state is still in disrepair, then he will cry for him.

However, when a person sees that his own “Holy Temple” is devastated, he cannot merely sigh and shed tears; he must set about rebuilding through repentance and spiritual service.

Moreover, at times crying can actually hinder the rebuilding of his spiritual status, as he may think to himself that he has already accomplished something by crying about it.

Yosef and Binyamin thus both wept about the destruction of their brother’s Temples and Tabernacle; with regard to their own Temples and Tabernacle they were doing all they could to avert the tragedy, for even after a heavenly decree has been issued, it is possible — through profound spiritual service — to nullify it.9

Yaakov, too, did not cry over the destruction of the Tabernacle and Temples, for as the father of all the Jewish people, both the Tabernacle as well as the Temples were in his “territory.” He therefore occupied himself in attempting to preserve them by reciting the Shema.

Compiled from Likkutei Sichos , Vol. X, pp. 146-149.