Where Have All the Tears Gone?

Can you remember when tears flowed freely on Tisha b’Av or on Yom Kippur? If not, have you ever heard stories of how even just one or two generations ago almost every Jew could cry and cry on such days? To paraphrase the lyrics of an iconic Pete Seeger song, “Where have all the tears gone? / Long time passing / Where have all the tears gone / Long time ago?”

Biologists tell us that humans have the capacity for three types of tears: basal tears (which keep the eyes lubricated), reflex tears (which protect against foreign irritants) and emotional tears (produced as a result of strong emotional stress, suffering, pain, joy, etc.). It is a curious fact of biology that animals do not shed emotional tears; humans are the only species that do. How come?

Most of us have been conditioned while very young to believe that crying is an inappropriate response to life’s challenges. Whether we were told that crying is only for babies and that ‘real grown ups’ don’t cry, or whether we were told in more subtle ways whenever we cried, i.e. ‘Shhh, shhh. It’s okay. Don’t cry”, either way, we learned the lesson. Crying is inappropriate. It’s a sign of weakness.

It is our opinion that this is one of the greatest mistakes in childrearing. Let us explore these issues.

David ha-Melech wrote (Tehillim 42:2,4): כְּאַיָּל תַּעֲרֹג עַל־אֲפִיקֵי־מָיִם כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹקִים…הָיְתָה־לִּי דִמְעָתִי לֶחֶם יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה בֶּאֱמֹר אֵלַי כׇּל־הַיּוֹם אַיֵּה אֱלֹקֶיךָ (As a female deer longs over the springs of water, my soul longs for You G-d…my tears [have been in place of] bread day and night, when they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your G-d?’). Why did David ha-Melech cry so much? Was it that the taunting of others caused him to sink into depression or that he couldn’t handle the pressure of the trials he suffered through? No, he wept because others were so distant from their Creator they couldn’t see the truth when they were staring at it with their own eyes. He wept because he shared in the anguish of the Divine Presence [Shechinah] who is likened to the female deer in exile (e.g. Zohar Acharei Mot 68). In many places through Sefer Tehillim, we read similar sentiments, for example (Tehillim 6:7): יָגַעְתִּי בְּאַנְחָתִי אַשְׂחֶה בְכׇל־לַיְלָה מִטָּתִי בְּדִמְעָתִי עַרְשִׂי אַמְסֶה (I am weary with sighing, I make my bed swim every night, I drench my couch with my tears). Now that’s a lot of tears! His parents probably never told him to stifle it when he was a little boy. David ha-Melech cried, wept and sobbed because he was mature and he appreciated the fact that the human experience is not just an intellectual experience but an emotional one as well.

Yirmeyah the prophet also wrote about it (Yirmeyah 8:23): מִי־יִתֵּן רֹאשִׁי מַיִם וְעֵינִי מְקוֹר דִּמְעָה וְאֶבְכֶּה יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה אֵת חַלְלֵי בַת־עַמִּי (If only my head were water and my eye a source of tears; I would weep day and night over the slain of the daughter of my people). Lamenting over the destruction of his nation by the Babylonians, he said (Eichah 2:11): כָּלוּ בַדְּמָעוֹת עֵינַי (My eyes are spent from tears); and also (Eichah 3:48): פַּלְגֵי־מַיִם תֵּרַד עֵינִי (Streams of water flow down from my eye). Many other examples could be given, but this is enough to show that, for the most part, the tears of the greatest among our ancestors are the tears over the exile of the Shechinah.

A few weeks ago, in the article entitled “Four Dimensions, Teshuvah and Time Travel”, we wrote about the superlative example of the heartfelt teshuvah of Chizkiyahu ha-Melech, as it is written (Melachim Bet 20:2-3): וַיַּסֵּב אֶת־פָּנָיו אֶל־הַקִּיר וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶל־יְיָ…וַיֵּבְךְּ חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּכִי גָדוֹל (And he turned his face to the wall [קיר, kir] and he prayed to Hashem…and Chizkiyahu cried a great cry). The Gemara asks a very important question (Berachot 10b): מַאי ״קִיר״? אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן לָקִישׁ: מִקִּירוֹת לִבּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״מֵעַי מֵעַי אוֹחִילָה קִירוֹת לִבִּי וְגוֹ׳ (What is the meaning of ‘wall’ [kir]? R’ Shimon ben Lakish said that he cried from the walls [kirot] of his heart, as it stated, ‘My insides are churning within me! I am in agony. The walls [kirot] of my heart…!’ [Yirmeyah 4:19]). In other words, by stating that Chizkiyahu ha-Melech ‘turned his face to the wall and prayed’, the verse isn’t just coming to teach that it is ideal to face a wall when praying, but rather to teach a much deeper point, i.e. that he turned to Hashem with honesty, stripped away the façade, poured out his soul and acknowledged the truth of his actions. It is this very same point that David ha-Melech brings up in Tehillim 51:19: זִבְחֵי אֱלקִֹים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלֹקִים לֹא תִבְזֶה (The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; G-d will not disgrace a broken and crushed heart). And how does one know that he has reached that level of a truly broken spirit? Go back and read the account of Chizkiyahu ha-Melech.

We all know the story of how R’ Akiva was sitting by a brook and noticed a trickle of water dripping onto a rock. Examining the rock closer, he was astonished to learn that the water had actually carved out a small hole in the rock. He reasoned that if something as hard as a stone could be reshaped by a constant supply of water drops, how much more so could Torah that he could learn bit by bit reshape his soul. This was the impetus he needed at the age of 40 to begin learning how to read the Torah. On one level, the water drops symbolize the words of Torah; but on a deeper level, the water drops symbolize his tears. He realized that the only way to truly heal his soul and reshape his heart was through tears, as it is written (Eichah 2:19): קוּמִי רֹנִּי בַלַּיְלָה לְרֹאשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֲדֹנָ-י (Get up! Sing out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of Ado-nai). Singing to Hashem in the night and then using that song as inspiration to pour out one’s heart to Hashem will lead a person to real teshuvah from a broken heart. Then Hashem will put joy into that broken heart, as it says (Tehillim 4:8): נָתַתָּה שִׂמְחָה בְלִבִּי (You put joy into my heart). There is no other way to be truly happy.

Not all emotional tears are the same. We are not talking here about tears of sadness, depression or self-pity. Rather, we are talking about tears of yearning, yearning for closeness [דביקות, deveikut] to Hashem, to have the Shechinah return to its place and for all of us to know intimately our Creator, as it is written (Yirmeyahu 31:34): כִּי־כוּלָּם יֵדְעוּ אוֹתִי לְמִקְּטַנָּם וְעַד־גְּדוֹלָם (For all of them will know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them). And this takes us right back to the first verses we brought down from David ha-Melech from Tehillim 42:2-4. We initially skipped verses 3, but now we turn to it: צָמְאָה נַפְשִׁי לֵאלֹקִים לְקֵל חָי מָתַי אָבוֹא וְאֵרָאֶה פְּנֵי אֱלֹקִים (My soul thirsts for G-d, to the G-d of my life! When will I be able to come and appear before G-d?) This is the desire and yearning of every true servant of Hashem, to see the Shechinah return to its proper place and the Beit ha-Mikdash rebuilt. David ha-Melech wrote (Tehillim 77:17-18): רָאוּךָ מַּיִם אֱלֹקִים…זֹרְמוּ מַיִם עָבוֹת (The waters saw you G-d…The clouds flowed water). Redemption always happens through water. It did so in the days of Moshe and Aharon, and it must do so now. So journey out into your own desert (even as our ancestors did when they left Egypt), call out to Hashem in the night with tears of deveikut and songs of thanksgiving, and witness the miracles of Hashem in your life, as it is written (Tehillim 114:8): הַהֹפְכִי הַצּוּר אֲגַם־מָיִם חַלָּמִישׁ לְמַעְיְנוֹ־מָיִם (Who turns the rock into a pond of water, the flint to flowing springs of water). The waters produced will not only be a blessing for you, but more importantly, to others besides. You will be happy all day long and that happiness will serve as a wellspring of life for others.

In conclusion, we know that tears are salty. But why are they so salty? Not ‘why’ from a biological point of view, but ‘why’ from a spiritual point of view. And why does every offering on the altar need to be accompanied by a little bit of salt? The answer is that tears are absolutely the best and most pleasing offering, as we already read (Tehillim 51:19): זִבְחֵי אֱלקִֹים רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה אֱלֹקִים לֹא תִבְזֶה (The sacrifices of G-d are a broken spirit; G-d will not disgrace a broken and crushed heart). And when we can bring those perfect sacrifices, then the final words of that mizmor will be fulfilled (51:20-21): הֵיטִיבָה בִרְצוֹנְךָ אֶת־צִיּוֹן תִּבְנֶה חוֹמוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ͏ִם׃ אָז תַּחְפֹּץ זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק עוֹלָה וְכָלִיל אָז יַעֲלוּ עַל־מִזְבַּחֲךָ פָרִים (May it be according to Your will to do good to Tzion; build the walls of Yerushalayim. Then You will desire the sacrifices of righteousness, a wholly burnt offering [oleh]. Then bulls will be offered up upon Your altar!)

May we merit such an awesome sacrifice! Amen.

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