Devarim: Power of Real Tears

hero image

Chorma. The name doesn’t ring many bells – but it is a sad place – a very sad place. It’s another good reason to read Devarim before Tisha B’av. Here’s the story(1):

But you were unwilling to go up, and you defied Hashem, your G-d. You grumbled in your tents and said, “Because of Hashem’s hatred of us, He took us out of the land of Egypt to put us in the hand of the Emorite to destroy us. Hashem said … “That [no] man will see—of these men, this wicked generation— the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers. .. And each of you girded his weapons, and you got ready to go up the mountain. I told you, but you did not obey. You defied Hashem, and deliberately went up the hill. The Emorites came out— those who live in those hills—toward you, and chased you as the bees do; and they crushed you in Se’ir till Chorma. You returned and wept before Hashem, but Hashem did not accept your prayer.

A simple question: Bnei Yisrael, Why do you cry? Why storm the mountains? You so much wanted to not go into Eretz Yisrael. You cried not to go into the land(2). You got what you davened for and you still cry?!

Go back some 325 years earlier to another dramatic cry scene(3):

It was when Yitzchok had finished blessing Yaakov, and Yaakov had just left the presence of Yitzchok, his father, that Eisov came back from his trapping. Yitzchok, his father, said to him, “Who are you?” He said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Eisov.” Yitzchok was seized with a powerful trembling; and said, “Who, then, is he who trapped [deer] and brought it to me. … When Eisov heard his father’s words, he wailed a most loud and bitter cry, and he said to his father, “Bless me too, my father.” [Eisov] said … “Have you not saved a blessing for me?” Eisov said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father,” and Eisov raised his voice and wept.

Eisav’s cry penetrates the heart and leaves a lasting impact. To this very day, we may still suffer from those cries.

Another simple question: Eisav, Eisav explain your tears! Didn’t you sell the birthright for good reasons – you despised it:

Eisov said, “Here I am about to die, what [good] is this birthright to me.” .. He swore to him, and sold his birthright to Yaakov… Yaakov then gave Eisov bread and a pottage of lentils. He [Eisov] ate and drank, got up and left. Eisov scorned the birthright.

One final question: A beautiful piece of Talmud relates that the gates of tears are never locked. The Kotzker rebbe asked: Why are there gates (similar to the famous question of why there are locks on the doors of 7-11…) ?

Rabbi Avraham Willig once shared with me an approach that cuts to the core of human emotions. There are so many reasons to cry. Just ask a baby, a kallah, a mourner or a mother. Jews, obviously, do not have a monopoly on tears.

But neither tears nor passion, are a litmus test of truth. The mother of Sisera also cried for her boy. PETA cries for the donkey blown up in a failed terrorist attack. Islamic Jihad mothers also cry.

Said the Kotzker, the gates of tears are locked to false tears.

Apparently, then – there are tears and there are tears, a point so aptly noted by the Rabbis in their characterization of Tisha B’av(4):

atem bechisem bechiya shel chinam, ani ekva lachem bechiya ledoros

You wept in vain, I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for all generations

Tell me, did you ever meet someone that cried without reason or one who possessed baseless hatred? The only people I ever spoke with that cried or hated without basis were the other people. Yet the Rabbis use the same term for both – chinam. Further, they teach that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.

Apparently, the human ability to fabricates truths and create needs is uncanny. As molders of our own destiny, we run the risk of hinging our existence on facades of falsehood and artificial needs.

The Jews at the end of the Second Commonwealth were a fractured bunch. Read the Talmudic sources in Gittin and one gets a sense of the scope. A personal interview of any of the main players in the schism (the biryonim, bar kamtza, saducees, etc.) would surely have revealed rationales for hatred. Ultimately, Chazal call this sinas chinam – because unvarnished from its personal agenda, that’s what it was.

Eisav was a busy man. He had places to be, worlds to conquer and empires to build. He couldn’t be bothered with the detailed spirituality of the bechora. It held him back. Klal Yisrael didn’t want Eretz Yisrael – for whatever reason. Maybe they were scared. Maybe it was great in the desert. Their cry was a rejection of Eretz Yisrael.

Both Eisav and Klal Yisrael convinced themselves that it was bad. But these were delusions. Later, it all came crashing down.

When it was finally taken away, what did Eisav do? He cried. In his heart of hearts he knew what was right and where he should be. Alas it was too late. When Klal Yisrael realized that Eretz Yisrael was taken off the table, it finally dawned on them what they had done. They cried, mourned and cajoled, but it was too late.

Tisha B’av is about undoing what is ultimately baseless crying and purposeless hatred. It’s about personal and national redemption. It’s about taking personal responsibility and recognizing what is ultimately important in our lives and having the courage to face the difficult reflective questions that form the stuff of life. Have we been honest in our assessments of other people and ourselves? For what do we cry? For what should we cry?

May we soon fulfill the verse.

Greeting from Jerusalem for a very meaningful (and still hopefully joyous) Tisha B’av

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander

1. Cf. Devarim, 1:34-46
2. Bamidbar, 14:1
3. Cf. Bereishis, 27:30-40
4. Talmud, Taanis 28b

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.