The Gift of Tears

‘For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water; because the comforter is far from me, even he that should refresh my soul; my children are desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.’

I couldn’t say those words. I was sitting in my room, alone, reading Eicha, and I could not say those words. Every time I tried, I choked up. I was remembering all those years I cried alone, as I was crying last night, and there was no one there to comfort me. I remembered the stories of what happened to my friends, how I felt hearing them, how powerless I was to make the people I loved feel safe. I remembered the phone call I got a few months ago from someone I love more than anyone or anything in this world, telling me about how she had been raped the previous night. I remember crying with her, beating the walls because I couldn’t beat her rapist.

I remembered my grandfather and the stories he told about being in the concentration camp at 19 years old. The atrocities he described, the bravery that people exhibited when the world lost its humanity, the lengths to which people went to preserve their faith, and the horrifying barbarity to which the world succumbed. But also the despair following the Holocaust; how so many people, the remnants of a world torn apart, had lost sight of a god who couldn’t possibly have existed and allowed such atrocity. True, we’ve rebuilt both spiritually and physically, but we lost a part of ourselves in the Holocaust.

Who ever cries about anything; when is it ever acceptable? Every morning, I put on my happy face and go about my business. I don’t let people see underneath because it would scare them and depress them. Most people are like that, really, hiding the part of them that isn’t happy, either because they know people don’t want to see it, or because it betrays a weakness that they don’t feel they can afford. Twice a year it becomes acceptable to cry, to remove the mask and show what’s underneath. On Yom Kippur we cry for forgiveness, and on Tisha B’av we cry in mourning for the losses we’ve suffered.

People dread both days because of their sepulchral nature (albeit for different reasons), but in truth both are a gift of sorts. We all do things we feel guilty about, but since guilt is generally at odds with our constant pursuit of success, we push guilt aside, or justify our actions to make them easier to live with. Yom Kippur is the one day a year when we can bare our souls to ourselves and our God, face our demons, and beg forgiveness, without worrying about what others may think or how it may adversely affect our lives, because everyone else is similarly confessing their own sins and iniquities. Thus, instead of causing divisiveness, this communal confession actually becomes a bonding moment between a “nation of sinners,” thereby bringing us closer to each other, and God.

Tisha B’av, too, allows us a day to express publicly what we keep hidden in the innermost recesses of our hearts. Crying is an intensely intimate experience, not just for oneself, but for everyone else around you. It’s something most people never let themselves see, let alone other people, but one day a year, we all sit on the floor, mourning, crying together over the losses we’ve experienced, both personally and as a nation. It raises us together to a different level, a level that that is equal and free of class, or caste, or position. We all sit on the floor and show our deepest vulnerabilities. On both days we are united by tears.

Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are gifts that, while they may start of as an imposition, end as uplifting and unifying experiences because they force us to embrace the gift of tears.


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