INSIGHT – Reason to Cry

By Rabbi Simcha Scholar

Jewish men pray at the Kosel on the day of Tisha B’Av in the Old City of Jerusalem, on July 17, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As children, many of us perceived the Three Weeks and Tishah B’Av as impediments, interfering with our exciting summer plans. No music, no swimming, and a permeating sense of solemnity that we hardly understood. As we grew older, hopefully, we began to appreciate what it was that we were mourning. We were able to relate to the Beis HaMikdash, the glorious era in our history where the Shechinah was a tangible reality. We understand that Klal Yisrael was once in their prime, radiating kedushah to the world. On Tishah B’Av, we lost not only a deep connection with Hashem, but a deeper connection with ourselves, who we truly are and who we are meant to be. The Three Weeks and the accompanying prohibitions help us internalize the magnitude of what we lost.

Grief naturally expresses itself with crying, and the torrent of tears that tzaddikim have shed during these ominous days reflects the deep bereavement befitting such painful loss. Yet, there is a puzzling passuk that seems to add extra emphasis on the need to cry. “Mi yiten roshi mayim v’eini mekor dimah — If only someone would turn my head to water and my eyes to wellsprings of tears, then I would cry all day and night” (Yirmiyahu 8:23).

The suffering we endured throughout our bitter galus journey, persecution, almost-annihilation, and the spiritual decline that befell our people since the Churban, are certainly sufficient cause for copious tears. Yet, the verse implies a mandate of generating tears even when they seem to have run dry.

There were times in our history when Yidden did not and could not cry. During the Inquisition, the Marranos, hidden Jews that purportedly converted to Christianity, watched as their brothers and sisters were burned at the stake, struggling to hold back their tears for fear of revealing their true sentiments. As millions perished in the Holocaust, there was often no time, or emotional energy, to mourn or cry. Even as the flames subsided, and shattered Yidden began rebuilding their lives, there were many who refrained from crying. Some had buried their pain, hoping to protect their children’s future, while others, like the proverbial elderly widow in Abie Rotenberg’s classic song, refused to question Hashem’s ways. “Never did she shed a tear, she asked for no answers, had nothing to fear, G-d’s love is but hidden, in time we’ll know why, but for now there’s no reason, no reason to cry.”

In our generation, it seems that tears are scarce and hard to come by. We’ve become numb to feeling each other’s pain, and even our own. Inundated with daily reports of violence, soaring crime, and rampant murders, tragedy just doesn’t strike the same chord anymore. With the advent of social media, people coldly scroll through haunting visual images of harrowing catastrophes, immune to the heartbreak and unmoved by the crushing pain.

Think of those who come to our doors collecting tzedakah. Each individual surely harbors a tragic story of personal tzaros; yet, unfortunately, there are many, and who has time, or interest, to offer a sympathetic ear? Eliciting compassion, emotion, and tears, is a difficult task.

Tishah B’Av allows us, obligates us, to pause for a moment, and allow ourselves to reach deep inside and draw out our unshed tears. To thaw the frozen exteriors of our daily grind and reconnect with each other, and with ourselves, and to cry over not being able to cry.

Rabbi Simcha Scholar is the chief executive officer of Chai Lifeline.

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