In a certain study hall in Jerusalem, there was a Rabbi who would continually pace up and down between the lecterns, carrying on an intense conversation in learning … with himself! This was a delightful and sometimes amusing spectacle. As he paced, however, he was also aware of his surroundings. One day, I was explaining to my study partner my personal criterion for a good leader of the prayers, namely that he should make me cry.
The Rabbi yelled out, “cry-tear-iyun!”
Was this guy sharp!
My friends, we can learn a lot from “cry-tear-iyun.” We say every day, that, among the “precepts whose fruits a person enjoys in This World but whose principal remains for him in the World to Come is ‘iyun’ tefilla … absorption in prayer” (Shabbos 127a).
What is the secret of prayer?
“Rabbi Elazar said: ‘From the day that the Temple was destroyed, the heavenly gates of prayer were locked…. But even though the gates of prayer have been locked, the gates of tears have not been locked, for it is stated, ‘Hear my prayer, G-d give ear to my outcry; to my tears be not silent’” (Berachos 32b).
Tears indicate that we are taking our prayers to heart, that we are trying to understand, visualize and internalize our words, trying to comprehend what we are saying, trying to address G-d “with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our resources” – begging for life and sustenance. This is not theory but reality, and it can bring us to tears. This, I believe, is “iyun tefilla… absorption in prayer.”
The heart of Joseph was so deep! He ruled over Egypt, the greatest civilization in the world at that time, yet his heart melted when he saw his brothers’ repentance. “Joseph could not endure in the presence of all who stood before him, so he called out, ‘Remove everyone from before me.’ Thus no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He gave forth his voice in weeping…” (Genesis 45:1-2).
My friends, do we know how to weep?
“Whosoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit to witness her joy, and whosoever do not mourn for Jerusalem will not merit to witness her joy” (Taanis 30b).
On Tisha b’Av, the Ninth day of the month of Av, the Jewish People wept at the report of the spies. This nation had everything! We had been freed from slavery by the Master of the Universe Himself and then sustained in a “howling wilderness,” (Deuteronomy 32:10) but we believed the spies! “The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice; the people wept that night” (Numbers 14:1).
There are two kinds of tears.
There are tears of complaint against G-d, tears of self-pity, tears of frustration, when one does not feel “sameach b’chelko … happiness in what he has” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1). There is no end to these tears. The Jewish People wanted to “return to Egypt.” This would, G-d forbid, have nullified our entire existence. We would have sunk below mem-tes shaarei tumah, the forty-ninth level of impurity, and become Egyptians, ending the mission of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! That is what our ancestors desired when they cried in the desert. That is why this day is so tragic!
There is another kind of tears.
“Thus said G-d: A voice is heard on high, wailing, and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, for they are gone” (Jeremiah 31:14).
This is weeping for one’s People, the tragedy of a Nation. Ultimately, it is weeping for Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father and King, Who has accompanied us into exile and Who suffers for us and with us on a scale of magnitude that we cannot even begin to imagine. These are tears of love for G-d and His People.
The Gate of Tears has not been locked!
The adult body is over sixty percent water. A baby (whose principal means of communication is through tears) is seventy-eight percent water. When a person cries, his eye perceives something painful and then his very essence flows out through his eyes. That is what real tears are about. You are losing your essence! Your very being is so distraught that your insides are actually exiting your body!
Every day we say, “Shema Yisroel! the L-rd is our G-d, the One and Only! You shall love G-d your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources.” When we cry during prayer, we are expressing love for G-d with all our heart … with all our soul and with all our resources. Our essence is pouring out. “Majestic, Beautiful, Radiance of the universe, my soul pines for Your love!” (Yedid Nefesh prayer)
These are the tears of Tisha B’Av!
We don’t have to fake these tears. We don’t have to try to make ourselves cry. We simply have to listen to the words of our own prayers!
“Eichah … How is it possible that she sits in solitude! The city that was great with people has become like a widow… She weeps bitterly in the night and her tear is on her cheek! She has no comforter … her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies…!”
My friends, this exile is so challenging! The pain of living without the Holy Temple is so deep! “G-d is good to those who trust in Him, to the soul that seeks Him. It is good to hope submissively for G-d’s salvation … Let one put his mouth to the dust … there may yet be hope!” (Lamentations 3:25ff)
Let’s not be afraid to weep! “All those who mourn for Jerusalem will merit to witness her joy.” May we merit to witness the complete joy of Jerusalem soon in our days!