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6 Av 8 - August 7, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Tears: Reflections and Conceptions

by R' Arye Geffen

They tell of a certain disciple who was seated by the seder table of his rebbe, HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l. He was so emotionally overcome that he accidentally spilled some wine on the snowy white tablecloth. Seeing his confusion, his host said, "A seder table without wine stains is like a Yomim Noraim machzor without tear stains."

There are parshiyos that teach us all about tears and tear stains, the tears that were suppressed inside the heart of Aharon HaKohen over the death of his two sons. "And Aharon was mute." Say Chazal: "When someone sheds tears over an upright person, those tears are counted by Hashem and gathered to be stored away in His treasure vaults." There is a lesson to be derived: if tears that are shed outwardly must have their proper outlet of expression, tears that spill over inwardly are all the more potently capable of scouring the stains of a soul with a cleanser and purgative together with the stains of the tears.


When the river of the soul overflows its banks, its waters cascade in all directions. The most searing of tears erupt from the volcano of the soul. And let not the tears of a simple commoner be light in your eyes, for in the merit of four tears, we gained greatness. Tears may be set off by pain or by joy. Some are salty, others watery. Each person has his individual tear reserves, a duct hidden behind the corner of his eyes. And each person knows what triggers off the flow.

For some, the aperture is rusty from disuse, in others, the hinges are well lubricated and turn easily, in and out, from constant use. Sometimes the tears are one's daily fare, dripping from him at a steady pace like a festering wound producing pus. Sometimes the flow is wet and watery, like a steady fountain, and at other times, the tears dry up like the scab of a wound covering up the healing process underneath.

"The gates of tears are never sealed."

If this is true, why were they created altogether? What is the purpose of gates that are never shut?

Said the wise man: In order to arrest the tears of fools and deny them admittance. When a foolish tear seeks entry, the gates of tears spring to life and close in.

And what constitutes such "crocodile tears"? Let us examine how many songs of praise the world sings over tears. How many pillows are drenched with them. How many cheeks are scalded as they course down. And the tear remains a single tiny droplet, round, salty and sticky, slipping out clandestinely, bashfully, from its hiding place and inching its way down in the open, leaving thick traces before it disappears.

Leah's eyelashes fell away from the force of her tears. There was a woman in Rabban Gamliel's neighborhood who wept every night over her tragic plight. Her tears were contagious, and hearing her sobs, he would weep along, until his eyelashes fell away. It is the nature of tears to strike sympathetic chords in others and make them weep along. One tear draws another, the lone tear is joined by succeeding tears that fall rapidly, forming a string of pearly teardrops. Some tears are stopped in midcourse by the flick of a hand, while at other times, they flow in a dizzying torrent that defy the ordered course; they gush forth with such force that nothing can stop them.

Tears can we wiped off a face, but they cannot be effaced. Nothing cries out louder than a tear; nothing is heavier than the lightweight tear. It is born from a special state of distress but its course through the pathways of the soul is charted. For when the eye tears, the soul underneath also tears and tears. Not every soul allows itself the relief of expression easing itself out between eyelashes with telltale dampness. Some prefer to weep inside, and the tears remained suppressed and contained in the eye of the stormy soul within, ashamed to show their face in the open, perhaps out of modesty or something akin to it.

Chazal said: "Tears come amingled." "Moshe transcribed [the Torah] amidst tears and the letters ran together." Tear, dim'a, is akin to demai. And what does that mean? Elsewhere we find this word applied to terumah (Mechilta 22).

It is the confusion of a soul that is shaken out of its serenity and sheds a troubled, disoriented tear. Any upheaval, a drastic change for the good or bad, gives birth to tears. Heightened emotion brings them on. Quarrels, strife, misunderstandings, dissension create the well lubricated faucets of tears. Tears water the ground that was prepared for them. They are not light like a round soap bubble, not air bound, bursting upon contact with the ground. Tears run along solid channels; they need a footing, they course along the route that was prepared for them beforehand.

The tear is a window unto the soul; it reflects the person who released it, reveals the path it followed, its destination, and what it mowed down along its course. There is much to be learned about the natural form it took upon appearance, what it wore on its head, how it was shod, for tears expose to light the depths of their owner. "I dissolve my bed with my tears."

The tear may appear as a purifier, cleansing the chambers of the soul, penetrating the lump of pain threatening to choke the throat, that round congested sensation at the swallowing point that constricts the measured passage of the breath of life. A depressing, suppressing tear embodying in its tiny dimensions a world of pain, a mirror-image of the tear in the heart which, emerging to the open, liberates the suffering hidden from the eye via its passage through the eye...

"R' Chanina's daughter passed away but he did not weep. His wife asked him, `Was it a chicken that you removed from the house?' He said to her, `Shall I suffer doubly, bereavement of a child and blindness, too?' `And the clouds return after the rain' refers to a person's sight which is damaged through weeping. R' Yochonon said in the name of R' Yossi ben Katzarta: There are six kinds of tears, three beneficial and three detrimental. The bad ones are tearing from smoke, from weeping in mourning and from straining in elimination. The tearing caused by medicine, laughter and of fruit, like the smell of mustard seed, are beneficial" (Shabbos 151).

"My eyes shed cascades of water over the desecration of Your Torah." Said Chazal: Regular weeping comes from suffering. Regular laughter is a sign of joy. But when we see weeping from joy, it is far greater than weeping from laughter. Its characteristic sign is the joy and relief one feels after the catharsis of weeping.

Joy comes to usurp the place of the pain that preceded it; it is the transformation of mourning to joy, "Gladden us according to the days that You afflicted us, the years we saw evil."

From out of the depths of suffering appear the tears of happiness on the wet cheek basking in pleasure. Those who sow with tears of sorrow shall harvest with the tears of exultation. The very eyes which exuded salt water during times of sinful agony are the very eyes that are capable of seeing from the distance the tear of sweet happiness.

"Would that my head be filled with water and my eye a fountain of tear." Would that the tears that flow from my head should emerge from my eye, that the fountain of tears behind my eye originate in my head. The brain should ennoble and bless the wellspring of tears and channel the pathways of its course. The head should control and contain us from drowning in a sea of tears, a sea of endless waters. It should produce tears of wisdom, not of meaningless folly.

"And Aharon was mute. It does not say that he was silent, because silence only denotes absence of speech, weeping and sighing, but muteness indicates a quiet acquiescence of the heart and an inner acceptance and serenity" (Shem Olom).

At first he wept aloud, but after Moshe spoke to him, he became silent" (Ramban).

A Point of Contention

"Were it not for David's prayer, all of Israel would be impoverished dealers of fatty substances. Fats are an unsightly thing; they adhere to clothing to make it disgusting, and only poor people bother to deal with such things" (Sota 49; Rashi).

The gala fair is in the offing, the time of collective ingathering. Everyone tries to make his best showing; they extend their hoofs to show how well groomed they are and shake off specks and spots from their clothing. They negotiate with stains and splotches, mud and dirt, ancient Jewish Judaica. Let us not forget that stains adhere to clothing and disfigure them. Not in vain did David pray that the nation of Hashem not trade in fats and blubber. Even though modesty befits Jews, we know that poverty will always exist. Still, a person must strive for spiritual wealth more prestigious than business dealings with stains and blemishes. "May the Merciful One sustain us in honor." May our livelihood be earned in dignity. Torah scholars are careful not to have any specks on their garments, and we take the modicum of pride in this, and pray that it be realized.

"My tear was my daily bread." From here you learn that suffering sates a person and stifles his appetite for food. Elkana asked Channah why she wept and why she did not eat. We learn from here that weeping feeds [it substitutes for eating]" (Yalkut Shimoni 301).

May our tears bring the ultimate joy of the Final Redemption!

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