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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Crying: A Two-Edged Sword

Harav Daniel Mann (condensed from an article by the author in "Tisha BAv To Go, 5770")

Our parasha mentions crying in connection to the Sin of the Spies, and the start of Megillat Eicha (1:2) features it prominently in the aftermath of the churban habayit (destruction of the Beit Hamikdash). The gemara (Taanit 29a) famously connects the two: “You cried for no reason; I will set for you a weeping for generations (on the same night, as all these events occurred on Tish’a B’av).”

At first glance, this sounds like a claim that the destruction was a punishment for the Sin of the Spies. However, unlike the Golden Calf, where the Torah says that the punishment would be in the future (Shemot 32:34), the Torah specifies that the punishment for this sin was the 40 years in the desert. In regard to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, Chazal also identify specific sins the people of that era committed and do not mention the Sin of the Spies.

It would appear that rather than a punishment, the weeping set over the churban was intended to initiate a process of tikkun (repairing) of the misuse of a powerful tool. Crying is neither good nor bad. It is triggered when one is sad, but also when one is happy. It can be a self-standing outburst of emotion, or it can be part of a charged expression of content, as Esther used it (Esther 8:3). It can be used properly, and it can be abused.

In the desert, our forefathers used it improperly in a sign of disbelief in Hashem and disapproval of His wonderful plan for us. They were punished for what they said, but they also soiled a powerful gift they were given (Bava Metzia 59a- “Even when the gates of prayer are sealed, the gates of tears are not sealed”). Hashem told them: if you want to purify the power of your tears, use them to cry for a constructive purpose. Use them to have pain over that which deserves it – the churban habayit – and toward the goal of a remorse that brings repentance and future rebuilding.

Rabbi Akiva displayed a particularly deep outlook on crying. The gemara (Makkot 24b) tells that when other rabbis were crying upon seeing a fox in the place of the Holy of Holies, Rabbi Akiva was happy. As he explained, the fulfillment of a prophecy of doom is a good omen regarding the prophecies of liberation. Fine, so Rabbi Akiva was an optimistic person who did not cry easily! Yet a different gemara (Avoda Zara 20b) tells us that he cried when he saw the beautiful woman who he would later marry because her beauty would deteriorate in the grave. Why cry over a quite natural future event? The answer is that Rabbi Akiva was able to look toward the future endgame. The woman’s beauty was indeed lost in the grave and would no longer bring anyone joy. On the other hand, the tragic state of the Beit Hamikdash was actually a building block or road mark toward a better future.

Most of us cannot pretend to master a Rabbi-Akiva-like approach to sad events. Although not commanded specifically to cry, we would do well to express our appropriate emotions over the churban and realize that our proper use of the powerful human emotional act is a step toward fixing past mistakes and ushering in a brighter future.

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This edition of

Hemdat Yamim

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