Tisha B’Av – The Power of Tears

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tisha-bavBy Rabbi Binyomin Radner

The night of Tisha B’av was enacted to be a night of crying. After the meraglim returned from the land of Israel and spoke evil about the land, the Pasuk states, “The nation cried that night.” That night was Tisha B’av.

Consequently, the night of Tisha B’av was designated to be a night of crying, as the Gemara, Taanis 29a tells that G-d responded. “They cried for no reason, therefore I will turn this into a night of crying for all future generations.”

The Gemara, Yoma 9b says that the second Temple was destroyed on Tisha B’av because of baseless hatred (sinas chinam). The basic understanding of baseless hatred is unwarranted hatred that people felt towards their fellow Jews. The Maharsha there references the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza as an example of baseless hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple.

The Chofetz Chaim, in his introduction to the Sefer Shemiras Halashon, adds that although the Gemara faults baseless hatred amongst the people for the Churban, the catalyst for it was actually the lashon hora in addition to baseless hatred. If not for lashon hora, the most natural outgrowth of sinas chinam, the Churban would not have had to come about.

The Gemara, Sotah 35 relates that because the meraglim spoke lashon hora, therefore they were killed after contracting a horrible disease, Askara, a disease which affects primarily the throat, midah keneged midah for lashon hora spoken with the mouth. Askara, a disease associated with diphtheria, is said to be the worst of all the world’s 903 possible deaths.

Moreover, the Chasam Sofer, Parshas Shelach, d.h. Amru Chazal traces the roots of the lashon hora of the meraglim as follows:

Chazal say, “Al ma avda haaretz? Al shelo birchu baTorah techila.” – “Why was Eretz Yisroel destroyed? Because they did not say birchas haTorah before they learned.” Although generally one does not make a bracha on a mitzvah unless he intends to complete doing the mitzvah afterwards, and one’s learning is not complete until he puts it into action, still a bracha is made before he learns. This is because it is inevitable that one will sin with avak lashon hora, if not outright loshon hora, at some point during the day. Therefore, one makes a bracha before learning as a birchas hodaah, a token of gratitude to Hashem for giving us the Torah which is our only antidote against the evil inclination to speak lashon hora.

So, according to the Chasam Sofer, birchas haTorah is not a birchas hamitzvah rather a birchas hodaah. Had they appreciated that the Torah is the only antidote to lashon hora and had they recited birchas hatorah, they would not have spoken evil about the land, Tisha B‘av would not have been designated as a day of tears, and the land would not have been destroyed. It was because they did not believe that the Torah was an antidote to lashon hora that they did ultimately fall prey to the yetzer hora of lashon hora and spoke evil about the land. Furthermore, Chazal say that lashon hora kills three people: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one about whom it is spoken. This is exactly what transpired in the incident with the meraglim. The meraglim who spoke it got killed, the people who heard it were killed throughout the ensuing forty years in the desert, and the land of Israel about which it was spoken was destroyed as the Pasuk says in Parshas Nitzavim, 29:22 , Gafris vamelach seraifa kol artza“. “Ash and salt will burn the land.”

However, the Maharsha, Taanis 29a identifies the baseless hatred differently:

The baseless hatred under discussion was hatred that the people had towards G-d Almighty, c’v. When Moshe Rabeinu was giving rebuke to the Jewish people in Parshas Devarim, we are informed that the people had complained, “Since G-d hated us, therefore He took us out of Egypt to kill us in the desert.” When the meraglim gave their negative report about the land of Israel, some of the people scornfully claimed that it was because G-d hated them that He took them out of Egypt in order to kill them in the desert. Since in general, one naturally assumes that the feelings that he has towards his neighbor are the same feelings that his neighbor has towards him. Since they felt hatred towards G-d Almighty, and they complained that G-d had hatred for them, as well. Moshe then rebuked them saying that it was certainly out of love that G-d took them out of Egypt and that their hatred was indeed baseless.

The Maharsha explains that this baseless hatred is alluded to in the terminology of “crying for no reason.” Since they had hatred without any basis, they cried with no basis.

Chazal in many places tell of the tremendous effect that tears can have, both positively and negatively:

The Gemara, Bava Metzia 59a tells that one should always be careful to refrain from talking to his wife in a manner that will cause her pain, for since she is more prone to tears the punishment for causing her to shed tears is swift in coming.

The Gemara explains, “From the day the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayers were locked, but the gates of tears were never locked.”

The flow of the Gemara seems quite clear that tears constitute a double-edged sword. On the one hand, one causing someone else pain to the point of bringing him/her to tears can have quite a detrimental and negative effect, invoking the midas hadin against the perpetrator. On the other hand, one who sheds tears while praying can invoke the midas harachamim much more so than with just prayer alone.

In fact, the Maharam Shif there remarks, that he is somewhat puzzled by why we say in Selichos, “Machnisei dimah hachnisu dimoseinu.” “Angels of tears bring in our tears.” After all, tears are so powerful and are granted immediate access to Heaven, why should we need to ask the Angels to bring our tears into G-d?!

The power that tears can have is further illustrated in the Gemara, Kesubos 62b which relates the incident in which Rav Rechumei would learn in the Yeshiva of Rava the whole year and would leave to visit home once a year on Erev Yom Kippur. One year, he became so involved in his learning that he delayed in coming home. His wife was anxiously awaiting his once-yearly visit and when he did not arrive at the expected time, she shed one tear. As a result, the attic in which Rav Rechumei was sitting at the time, collapsed and Rav Rechumei died instantly.

Now, surely Rav Rechumei’s wife did not want him to die and was certainly much more hurt by her husband being taken away from her altogether, than by his just coming home later than the usual.

Nevertheless, R’ Chaim Shmulevitz, Sichos Mussar: Maamar Zechiras Miriam explains, such is the power of tears. When one causes another person pain to the point of tears, it is likened to a fire which burns on contact, regardless of what the intent was. Just as a fire burns on contact, whether it was started intentionally or not, so too causing another person pain to the point of tears can invoke an immediate and harsh response from Heaven, even if done unintentionally, Rachmana litzlan.

Additionally, we find that as soon as Bas-yah heard Moshe crying as a baby in the Nile River, she was immediately filled with compassion and came to his aid. The Pasuk, Parshas Shemos, 2:6, says “Vehinei naar boche vatachmol olav.” “Behold the child was crying, and she had pity on him.”

The Zohar remarks that this terminology alludes to this concept that crying is very powerful and can achieve results much more effectively than prayer without tears. Based on this the Ari, z”l advised that one should do his utmost to shed tears during the closing prayer of Neilah on Yom Kippur, since tears are so very powerful and G-d will certainly not ignore them.

The Yalkut Me’am Loez, Toldos 27:38 quotes from the Zohar that in the merit of the tears that Eisav cried while he was asking Yitzchok Avinu for a bracha, the Jewish nation has been under Eisav’s rule for so long. And they will remain under his control until they do repentance, likewise, with tears invoking G-d’s compassion.

Not only that, but the Medrash, Tehilim ‘137 says that when Yirmiyahu was being separated from the Jewish nation right after the Churban, they began crying that they wanted him to stay with them. Yirmiyahu responded that if they would have cried even one time prior to the Churban, back when he was imploring them to do teshuva, they would not have gone into exile. Such is the power of crying.

We see from Leah, as well, the power of davening with tears. The Pasuk says “The eyes of Leah were weak from crying.” And Rashi explains that this was so because Rochel was originally supposed to marry Yaakov and Leah was supposed to marry Eisav.

The Gemara, Bava Basra 123a relates that we see from here how powerfully effective prayer with tears can be. Through crying, Leah altered the gezaira of bas ploni leploni, i.e. who she was to marry. Not only that, but she married Yaakov even before his original bas zivug, Rochel, did. Not only that, but Rochel’s son Yosef was really supposed to be the firstborn of Yaakov. Instead, Leah bore Reuven first, making her son the firstborn of Yaakov, as well as the first shevet, a direct result of the power of prayer accompanied by tears.

The Gemara, Bava Basra 60b relates, Kol hamisabel al Yerusholayim zoche vi’roeh besimchasa.

“Anyone who mourns over Yerusholayim becomes worthy and sees it in its happiness.”

The obvious question raised by many of the commentators is why does it say zoche viroeh, which is in the present tense?

Shouldn’t it say yizkeh viyireh which denotes the future? Shouldn’t the proper terminology be that anyone who mourns over Yerusholayim will eventually be worthy to see its resurrection when that happens?

The Sefer Kehilas Yitzchok Al HaTorah: Parshas Devarim offers an answer to this question in the name of Reb Chaim of Volozin:

We know from the Gemara, Pesachim 54b that when one suffers the loss of a loved one, the pain of the loss is eventually forgotten and he moves on. This is a great kindness from the Almighty for otherwise, people would not be able to function if they would always have the vivid and painful memory of losing a loved one distinctly on their minds.

Rashi, Parshas Vayeishev 37:35 d.h. Vayimoain Lehisnacheim cites the Medrash that this pain is present only for a loved one who has actually passed on. But for a loved one who is only thought to be dead but is actually still alive, is not forgotten. This is why Yaakov Avinu could not be comforted over Yosef since Yosef was actually alive and only thought to be dead.

Accordingly, one who mourns over Yerusholayim demonstrates that for him Yerusholayim is still alive, similar to Yosef who was not dead but just temporarily missing. Hence, one who mourns over Yerusholayim sees immediately that Yerusholayim is not dead, and experiences the joy of realizing that Yerusholayim is still alive. It follows, then, that the pain of the Churban is still alive today and has not been forgotten, because Yerusholayim is still alive. This alone serves as a source of comfort to those who mourn over Yerusholayim. The Gemara teaches us this idea by putting this passage in the present tense of zocheh veroeh.

The Aruch Hashulchan, Hilchos Tisha B’av 554:22 was apparently bothered by the discrepancy in grammar, as well, and records this phrase in the future tense as, Kol hamisabel al Yirusholayim yizkeh viyireh veyismach bebinyan Yerusholayim.”

We also find this concept discussed in the Rema, Sefer Toras Ha’ola cited in the Tallelei Oros on Megilas Eicha, Page 47 as well where the following episode is recorded:

It once occurred that Plato, the great philosopher, came to Yerusholayim together with Nevuchadnetzar after the Churban. They entered the Temple Mount and found Yirmiyahu Hanavi weeping bitterly.

Plato addressed Yirmiyahu, questioning his weeping on two counts: a) You, the wise one among your people, why do you cry over the destruction of mere wood and stones; b) the destruction has already happened and is in the past. It is not befitting for a wise man to cry over the past; what’s done is done!

Yirmiyahu responded to Plato as follows: “As a philosopher, you must have many questions in the field of philosophy that remain unanswered.” Plato agreed that he, in fact, had many questions that were unanswered and doubted that anyone in the world could answer them. Yirmiyahu then told him to go ahead and ask him his questions in philosophy and that Yirmiyahu would clarify them. Plato then posed his questions. Yirmiyahu, obviously well-educated in philosophy, answered every single one of his questions with no trouble at all, clarifying all of his doubts. Plato, astounded by the sheer brilliance of Yirmiyahu exclaimed, “How could a mere human being possess such astounding wisdom?” Yirmiyahu responded, “All of the wisdom that you hear from me, I have derived from these stones and wood chips of the Temple. However to the second question that you asked me about why I cry over the past, this I cannot explain to you as you will not be able to comprehend the answer.”

This is where the story concludes.

The Alter of Kelm explains that the answer to the second question is with the afore-mentioned concept that we are not crying over the past, but actually in regard to the present and the future. The gates of tears were never locked, and through mourning and crying over the Churban, we show that Yerusholayim is still alive, in addition to the promise that if we cry over the Churban we will eventually be zoche to see the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh. A non-Jew is incapable of comprehending this idea and, therefore, Yirmiyahu did not relate it to Plato.

Rav Dessler explains this passage of Kol hamisabel in the Gemara a bit differently:

The Michtav Me’eliyahu 2: 47 explains that on Tisha B’av we are supposed to be in pain over the galus of the shechina. One who is able to feel this pain to the point that it brings him to tears and is pained that because of the Churban he cannot be connected to G-d the way he should be, has already reached a high madreiga and that alone is a cause for comfort. Just being able to realize that one is missing out on something to the point of tears is a relief and a source of comfort. This is also the purpose of having a designated time for crying as a bechiyah ledoros. Although the basic understanding of bechiyah ledoros is that it is a punishment, it is also meant to be a way for all generations to realize that they are spiritually lacking because of the Churban, the realization of which will bring them closer to the geula. Hence, this lesson is mentioned by the Gemara in the present tense.

May we all be worthy to see the fulfillment of Vekara olai moed, when Tisha B’av will be turned from a day of mourning into a day of rejoicing, bekarov beyameinu, Amein.

Comments or questions may be directed to the author at benradner@gmail.com.

Much thanks for meticulously proofreading this article to Mr. David Wayntraub – djw0601@sbcglobal.net.

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  2. Thank you Rabbi Radner for this beautiful vort! May we very soon see the day of tisha b’Av transformed into a day of rejoicing!!


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