Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Trail of 100 Tears (GUEST POST)

A guest post by a Twitter person I know only as @yeshivaguy

Hopefully, you'll be crying in just a few short hours. Crying and wailing like you've never cried before.
According to our sources, tears are more potent than actual tefillah (prayer). The Gemara(*1) says that although the gates of tefillah have been closed to us the gates of tears have not been.

Why? What about tears that make them so formidable as to have the ability to penetrate gates where even prayer must stand back? [DB: What does that even mean?]
As we know, tears play a thematic role in the Rosh Hashana liturgy. The most prevalent one being, of course, the Shofar and its cries, or wails (or tears).

In fact, the Gemara(*2) decides the specific kind and order of the tekios based on various definitions of word(s) meaning crying/wailing/moaning/etc.

On Rosh Hashana we blow tekios (and according to the Gemara(*2), the tekios we blow are either to arouse tears, or are metaphysical wails themselves(*3)). We all sit through the many- and dare I say it?- repetitious blowings. But how many do we actually blow? And why so many: Why the repetitive blowing?

Did you know that according to Shulchan Aruch(*4), only nine are mandated by the (Written) Torah? So why the hundred that we end up doing?

According to a fascinating Tosfos(*B'Shem the Aruch, also hinted to in Zohar), the reason we blow 100 "blowings" is... to counteract or match the 100 wails that the mother of Sisrah wailed.


The mother of Sisrah, you say thoughtfully...never heard of her, huh? [DB: Certainly us non-yeshiva people remember the story from Nach; also she's mentioned in the haftarah of parshas b'shalach. She's hardly an unknown.]

The Navi in Shoftim (*5/also know as Shiras Devorah) describes the incredible battle that took place between this fellow, Sisrah, and the Jews living in the land of Eretz Yisroel at the time.

-As an aside, according to the Midrash(*6), Sisrah was leading a force of 4 billion men against the Jews. Prior to this, he'd conquered the entire world; all he had to do as roar, and walls would fall- literally. All this before the age of 30...

Talk about a focused individual. [DB: Of course, this is fanciful. Even in our day, an army of 4 billion would be impossible. In Sisreh's time, there weren't even 1 billion people in the world.]

But back to the battle. This clash was of such gargantuan proportions that the heavens themselves(*7) were enlisted to join the fray. Can you imagine the stars fighting with each other? [DB: No. What does that even mean?]

Of course, the what this means, exactly, is not our subject...but in it's simple interpretation, stars really fought in this battle. The MHR"L explains that the stars were actually combating to preserve the very order of the world; such was the power and ambition of Sisrah. [DB: How do stars combat? Seriously. How?]

Yes, it sound distinctly Lords of the Rings-ish. But it happened. [DB: In what sense?]

And this fellow Sisrah was the general of the guys fighting against us. A fearsome fellow, as described.

But, as they say, everyone has a mother, and this guy had one too. Waiting at home for her little (or not so little) mamaleh to come home.  With the booty of war, no doubt... The Navi describes the scene; this anxious old woman is peering out the window(*8), eagerly awaiting the return of her victorious son from the battlefield. Only this time, his return is assisted; by pallbearers. And when she beholds this sad sight, she is moved. To tears.

"Va'T'Yavev Aim Sisrah", says the pasuk. The mother of Sisrah wailed.(*8)

And not just any tears. These were one hundred tears so powerful that for some reason we are required to counter those tears with one hundred of our own tears (the tears of the shofar). And so we encounter this theme again; the power of the tear.

Only this time, the tears are of a different nature; these are tears of a gentile, whom we know has considerable less kedusha than a Yid, [DB: We know? What does that even mean?] and as such, shouldn't have had such an effect on us Jews. And certainly not enough to have us change the form of our Rosh Hashana service...right? [DB: No. Not right. As your story proves, and as common sense would have told us anyway.]

An easy out here could be in the nature of the relationship of a mother to her son: Just as Sisrah's mother had mercy on her son, this wicked fellow, so too we beg Hashem to have mercy on us, his wayward children(*9). But this avoids both the issue that she was a gentile, and it also avoids the tears matter; why bring tears into the picture, both from the side of Sisrah's mother, and from the Shofar's side?

To solve this perplexing dilemma- this powerful puissance of the tear- we must examine an oft-quoted story that took place some two thousand years ago, plus change. (*10)Yirmiyahu the Prophet was sitting and lamenting the destruction of the Temple. As he sat, shedding his tears, Plato (some say Aristotle) came upon him. [DB: This also didn't happen. All the dating puts Jeremiah at least 150 years earlier than Plato, and Aristotle came even later.Besides neither ever went anywhere near Jerusalem or even Egypt where Jeremiah was exiled.]

The Greek philosopher had joined the conquering forces on their trip to Jerusalem, and was now walking about. [DB: Impossible.] As he met with Yirmiyahu, he engaged him in discussion. After some time, he realized the Prophet's greatness. Surprised at Yirmiyahu's dirgeful weeping, he asked the Prophet; "Great and wise man, isn't it unbecoming for one as yourself to mourn mere wood and stones? And in addition, the Temple's destruction has already happened. To what end do you weep now? Surely you agree that "crying over spilt milk" accomplishes nothing?"

Yirmiyahu replied "As a philospher, no doubt you have many questions concerning the world, etc. Ask". So Plato/Aristotle obliged. Upon hearing which Yirmiyahu eloquently and succintly answered them all. To which the incrdulous Plato/Aristotle could only stutter back "From where does a human being acquire such knowledge"?

Yirmiyahu answered with the following. "As to your first question- there you have it. All of my knowledge is indeed not simply human- it is piped though those "sticks and stones", as you call them. As to your second question- why I cry over the past- you are not from the seed of Israel. As wise as you may be, you could never comprehend the answer".

And with that retort, our story ends.

But not our analysis of it. How are we supposed to understand this? Here sit two of the wisest living people in the world. Yirmiyahu and Plato/Aristotle. [DB: As noted, this never happened.]

According to RMB"M(*11) Aristotle attained a degree of knowledge so great that it was only a grade less than the knowledge acquired by the Prophets themselves. [DB: Sure Aristotle was smart, but TTBOMK philospher's today think him sort of primitive. Rambam was fascinated with him, lets remember, because in his time and place (Scholastic Europe) everyone intelligent was fascinated with Aristotle. Aristotle was the rock star of the day.]

Surely he could have understand the answer, whatever it was. And certainly when one considers that the Prophet himself would have been explaining it!

The answer to our conundrums, both of A) why we must counteract the tears of this rasha's mother, and B) why Plato/Aristotle couldn't understand why we cry over the past, lies in the understanding of a fundamental dichotomy between the tears of a gentile and the tears of a Jew. [DB: Oy vey. I honestly hate chauvinistic, question begging crap like this. Nothing personal @yeshivaguy]

When a gentile (like Sisrah's mother) cries, he/she cries tears of despair. They bewail what was; and what will never be again. Sisrah's mother saw the hearse and knew what she had known all along in her heart- her son was not coming home. And she knew with utter clarity that it was all over- those tears were the reaction to this information. Reactionary tears evoked by complete and utter despair.

On the other hand, when a Jew, like Yirmiyahu cries, the tears are tears of completely different sort. True, they are tears of sadness at whatever loss is being expressed; but emotively speaking, within the tragic sentiment is another, far more powerful, perhaps even dominant emotion.

Hope. [DB: Puke hurl. Gentiles also experience "hope". Even when they cry.]

The tears of a Jew can perform wonders. They are tears not of hopelessness, but of hope. They can go places even prayer cannot.

(See the pasuk(*12) "...She said from the children of the Jews [he] is". Basya knew that the baby Moshe Rabeinu was Jewish. How?

She discerned in the infant's sobbing the note of hope, and not of despair.(*13))

And because this is so, Yirmiyahu cried. He sheds three tears at the recent loss of the Temple (*18) and on the future Temple, etc.), but with the same tear is crying to bring it back.

And we, too, cry.

We cry on Tisha Ba'av, we cry at loss, and we cry on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Hopefully, we are bemoaning specific transgressions that we regret now. But even if not, we must cry.

The Kotzker Rebbe's "there is nothing so whole as a broken heart" expresses this idea beautifully.
We cry to gain favor in the eyes of a G-d who wishes for us to pass this great day of judgement. But He must do so without compromising.

So He looks for our guilt. And He hopes we will cry. Because with our tears, our tears of simultaneous loss and hope, we can pass judgement.

Rosh Hashana is more than just a Yom Din- a Day of Judgement. It is the beginning of our 10 Days or Repentance. Our yearly cycle of ten days given to us where Hashem makes it easier- and therefore expects- our Teshuva. He embraces it.

As RMB"M(*14) puts it, "...and therefore, we blow...and it is almost as Rosh Hashana is the introduction to Yom Kippur".

I would feel remiss if I didn't mention, too, the famous RMB"M(*15) that informs us that although Shofar is in fact something we don't really have an outright reason given for in the Torah, a hint is given in the pasuk which states "Awake, awake sleeping ones from your sleep, and end you slumber, slumbering ones".

From the above RMB"Ms, it is obvious that he considered the primary goal of the Shofar (aside, of course, from the actual mitzvah) to motivate ourselves and use the sound to perform Teshuva. (Also note that the RMB"M brings the above in Hilchos Teshuva, not Shofar- another telling sign of the primary goal here).
The Meiri(*16) explains that this time of year (R"H) is uniquely geared to motivate us to perform Teshuva...and he explains in dire detail the consequences not attempting to stir oneself to Teshuva.
But, perhaps R' Yisroel Salanter(*17) put it most eloquently: "And at the very least, [one must] break his spirit [with a] broken heart. [For that is] the foundation for protection against this great hazard hovering [over us]".

Let us utilize this coming Rosh Hashana to cry. And wail. Like never before.

In that zchus, may we successfully obtain favorable judgement in this Great Court Case we are about to enter into.

And Im Yirtzeh Hashem, we will be zocheh to be set on that final trail, that trail of the Geulah.


1- B"M 59A; Ayin Maharam Shif al hadaf-The gates were closed when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.

2- R"H 33B

3- R' Shamshon Rapheal Hirsch has a fascinating explanation of the precise, unique nature of each of the tekios. (Horeb, Grunwald edition, Shofar, 203).

4- Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim, Siman 590.

5- Shoftim Perek 5:1-31

6- Yalkut Shimoni

7- Shoftim 5:20

8- Shoftim 5:28 "B'ad Hachalon Nishkafah, Va'Tyavev Aim Sisrah...etc."

9- "K'Rachem Av al Banim" etc. I forgot where I saw this p'shat.

10- Toras Ha'oloh (R"MA) Chelek 1:Perek 11, Seder Hadoros (Shanah 3300), and the Shalsheles Hakabalah p.101A/1- who changes to Aristotle for chronological reasons, etc. Also see the Hakdamah of Otzar Hamidrashim, Yirmiyahu.

11- Moreh Nevuchim

12- Shmos 2:6

13- Ma'ayonos HaNetzach B'Shem R' Moshe Chaim of Slonim

14- Moreh Nevuchim (Chelek 3:43)

15- Yad Hachazakah Perek 3:Halacha 4

16- Bais Ha'Bchirah Maseches Rosh Hashana 16A

17- Igros 7B

18- Yirmiyahu 13/Chagigah 5B

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