“She Weeps Bitterly in the Night...” (Eichah 1:2)
The Prophet Yirmiyahu pictures the ruined
Yerushalayim in Megillat Eichah as a widow. “She weeps bitterly in the
night, and her tear is on her cheek...” (ibid. as in Title). The Prophet
records his own emotion in similar fashion; “My eye sheds streams of water
at the shattering of my People. My eye will flow and will not cease –
without relief – until HaShem looks down and takes notice from Heaven.” (Eichah
1 - Two closely related physiological
acts emanate from different parts of the face. The act of weeping is
associated with the mouth (the voice), as we see in Yirmiyahu 31:15, where
the Prophet speaks encouragingly to our mother Rachel, “Keep your voice from
weeping...” but tears are associated with the eyes, “...and your eyes from
In an essay called “As Tears Go By,” by Susan McCarthy, the author categorizes tears into three types:
One type, “emotional” tears, are tears of rage, grief and joy. The two other types are “continuous” tears, which keep the eyes from drying up and bathe the eye during sleep, and “irritant” tears, which occur when one’s eyes encounter onion vapors, smoke or foreign bodies. “Continuous” tears and “irritant” tears occur in other species than ours, and are fairly well understood. “Emotional” tears seem to be limited to human beings, and are not well understood.
In terms of their chemical composition, “continuous” and “irritant” tears are saline solutions of immunoglobins and enzymes that protect the eye from infection. They contain proteins such as the hormone prolactin and the pituitary hormone ACTH, both of which are related to the body’s response to stress, and a substantial amount of manganese. Other ingredients are oil and mucus, and a thin film protects the surface of the eye.
McCarthy discusses the work of one of the world’s few “tear researchers,” William Frey, whose main job is to study the biochemistry of the brain, especially in connection with Alzheimer’s disease. But he has been studying tears on the side for many years. Despite difficulty in obtaining laboratory samples of “emotional” tears (he finally settled on the method of showing sad movies and asking members of the audience to collect their own tears in a test tube), he was finally able to compare samples of “emotional” tears with samples of “continuous” and “irritant” tears. Both the “emotional” and the other two types contain high levels of manganese, about thirty times as much as is found in blood serum. “Emotional” tears, however, have 21% more protein than the others, but it isn’t clear yet which proteins these are.
We find in the Tanach tears of sadness and tears of joy. Tears of sadness are associated with “aveilut,” mourning for a loved one, as we find in the beginning of Parashat Chaye Sarah, “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, which is Chevron, in the Land of Canaan, and Avraham came, to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her;” (Bereshit 23:3) and also for the destruction of Yerushalayim, the Holy City, and its Holy Temple, the spiritual center of the nation. We find tears of joy being shed, for example, when two brothers, long separated, are reunited “And he fell on his brother Binyamin’s neck, and wept; and Binyamin wept on his neck.” (Bereshit 45:14) We also find tears that express combinations of sadness and joy, or hope, as in tears of repentance, “... with my tears, I drench my bed.” (Tehilim 6:7, and the weekday “Tachanun” Prayer)
A parent who is particularly close to his children will frequently be found shedding tears of joy on the occasion of the celebration of a “simchah” by one of them. Tears may also be elicited as well by a sense of “arvut,” of connection, with one’s fellow Jews or even with one’s fellow human beings, on certain occasions.
Apparently, the ability to cry can be passed from generation to generation.
On Tishah B’Av, at Camp Deal a long time ago, when I was fourteen, I visited my friend who was a counselor for a bunk of the youngest campers. I saw a little boy who was crying genuine tears. I asked my friend who he was, and he told me that the boy was the son of a Rosh Yeshiva who had come over from Europe after World War II, and who was now giving a shiur at YU. That little boy, who probably absorbed his depth of feeling from his parents, has grown up to be a Rosh Yeshivah at one of the finest Yeshivot in New York City.
We find in Pirkei Avot 2:18, “Rabbi Shimon said, ‘...when you pray, do not make of your prayer a set routine, but rather beg for compassion and mercy from the Omnipresent, as it is said, ‘For He is generous and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in Kindness, and reluctant to punish’...” (Yoel 2:13) In Tefilat “Yizkor” as well, when one revisits cherished memories of loved ones, the Gate of Tears is often opened, and one is permitted to enter.
May this Tishah B’Av be the last “Moed,” Time of Assembly, for tears of sadness, as it was at the time of destruction, as it says that HaShem “... called a solemn assembly against me to crush my young men...” (Eichah 1:15), and may the next Tishah B’Av be a “Moed,” an Assembly for tears of joyous laughter. For within this day was planted the potential to be the saddest day on the Hebrew Calendar, and the most joyous.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel