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19 Cheshvan 5765 - November 3, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Tears and Laughter: Crying on Shabbos and Yom Tov

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

More Than Meets the Eye

Crying is one of the most mysterious and puzzling responses of the human body. We cry out of joy and we cry out of pain; we cry in prayer and we cry when faced with death. The eyes fill with tears, and then suddenly we feel better. Why?

Hashem gave us two delicate tools to understand the world around us -- the eyes and the heart. The eyes absorb everything that cross their path, and allow us to grasp the physical nature of the things around us. The heart takes this information and processes it, transforming it into spiritual matter.

The heart and eyes are inseparably bound together. So much so that the halochoh permits one to desecrate Shabbos for a wound in the eye, for it is considered to directly affect the heart (Shulchan Oruch 328,9). In the words of our Sages, "The muscles of the eye are bound to the chambers of the heart" (Avodoh Zorah 28b).

In general, the eyes and heart work in tandem to perceive the world. However, at times we undergo such a moving experience that our eyes cannot deal with the level of grief or joy which the heart sets before us. We receive conflicting messages from these organs, and we are thrown into a state of confusion.

In order to get through these times, Hashem gave us the ability to cry. When the eyes fill with tears our vision is blurred. Crying makes a person feel better, for salty tears momentarily blind our eyes and let us view a situation solely through the lenses of our heart. Unable to see properly, we recognize that there is a deeper spiritual reality that the eyes cannot distinguish, and only the heart can fathom.

Tears of Joy

". . . The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart. Behold he stands behind our wall, he looks in at the windows, he peers through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me, and said, `Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away . . .' " (Shir HaShirim 2:8- 10).

Every line of Shir HaShirim overflows with beauty and elegance, poetically capturing the intense love that exists between Hashem and the Jewish people. Rebbi Akiva understood the depth of these words, and reciting them brought him to a state of tremendous closeness to his Creator. When saying Shir HaShirim, tears streamed from his eyes (Zohar Chodosh).

The Medrash writes that Rebbi Akiva's students saw him crying on Shabbos (Medrash Ne'elam, Parshas Vayera). Some poskim understand that his tears came as a result of feeling close to Hashem, as in the previous incident while reciting Shir HaShirim.

They argue that if it were permitted to cry on Shabbos for pain, anyone who felt the slightest pain could cry on Shabbos. Tears brought on as a result of sadness contradict the serene nature of the day and are forbidden (Taz 288,2).

Tears of Sorrow

"One who experiences pleasure from crying on Shabbos and relieving the pain that he feels is permitted to weep on Shabbos" (Rema, ibid.). The Rema clearly disagrees with the above opinion that forbids tears of sorrow. Even though crying is generally viewed as an unpleasant act, when it helps a person deal with anguish it is considered by this opinion to be oneg Shabbos (Sefer Tosefes Shabbos, ibid.).

"Lev yodei'a moras nafsho." A person recognizes the nature of his heart (Mishlei). The Rema's leniency to cry is not carte blanche. Everyone knows whether crying will relieve them of intense pain that they are suffering within. The Rema only permits crying on Shabbos if doing so will help him deal with the anguish (Elya Rabbah 288,3).

Some poskim do not discuss this halochoh altogether, perhaps indicating that they forbid crying on Shabbos (Shulchan Oruch HaRav).

What is the proper behavior to follow? The consensus of halachic authorities is that if a person feels anguish bottled up within, and releasing it through tears will make his Shabbos more enjoyable, he is permitted to cry (Rema, Oruch HaShulchan, Elya Rabba, Sefer Tosefes Shabbos).

Tears of Prayer

"All of the gates of prayer are closed, but the gates of tears are not closed" (Brochos 32b). Crying blurs the eyes and opens the heart. Since prayer is the service of the heart,' tears have a special part in helping one's tefillos find favor in the eyes of one's Creator.

Even though a person who feels intense pain is allowed to weep on Shabbos, in most situations it is forbidden to cry out to Hashem on Shabbos about our tribulations. Only if someone has a life-threatening illness, such prayers are allowed (Shulchan Aruch 288:10). If something takes place on Shabbos which throws a person into great distress, G-d forbid, a person may pour out his anguish privately (Mishnah Berurah 288:26).

We are taught that every transgression leaves a spiritual mark on one's forehead. With his pure eyes, the Arizal could read and identify this writing, and understand what sins a person had committed. He revealed that the secret of erasing this mysterious writing is to take the tears shed during sincere prayer and wipe them across one's brow. These tears have the power to cleanse the offending marks and remove those badges of shame (Siddur Arizal as cited in the Elef LeMagen 582:46; Reishis Chochmah, Kedushoh 9:7).

Tears of Mourning

Our Sages divided up the seven-day mourning period into two parts. The first three days are referred to as "yemei bechi" a time set aside for crying. During these days it is proper for the ovel to release the pain within his heart through tears. While the inability to get upset over the passing of a close relative is considered to be a callous act, overdoing it is forbidden for it shows an unwillingness to accept Divine judgment (Responsa of the Radvaz).

There was a woman in the community of Rav Hunah who cried excessively over the death of her child. Rav Hunah sent her a message that she should not cry so much for continuing her excessive tears could be the source of more reasons to cry. She did not heed his words and in the end all of her seven children died. Her crying continued and Rav Hunah warned her that her own life was in danger. She continued to weep and it was not long before she also passed away (Moed Katan 27b).

If a relative passes away, G-d forbid, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, is it permitted to cry? The poskim write that if someone became an onen (a mourner who is personally responsible for the funeral arrangements) on Yom Tov, it is permitted to weep. Even though this is an active contradiction to the festive mood of Yom Tov, since an onen is not obligated in the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov, he is permitted to cry about the death on Yom Tov.

After the burial he should make an attempt to overcome his pain and try to enjoy Yom Tov (Responsa Amudei Or as cited in Kaf HaChaim 288,10). In many cases nowadays, since the funeral arrangements are handed over to others, a mourner does not have the status of an onen. A competent authority should be consulted.

The Power of Laughter

Rebbi Gamliel, Rebbi Eliezer ben Azarya, Rebbi Yehoshua, and Rebbi Akiva were traveling together when they heard a clamor coming from Rome, 120 miles away. The first three started to cry, and Rebbi Akiva laughed. They asked him, "Why are you laughing?" He replied, "Why are you crying?"

They told him, the people of Rome are worshiping idols and living in tranquility, while our Temple is destroyed by fire; should we not cry! Rebbi Akiva replied, "It is exactly for this reason am I laughing! If this is how Hashem treats those who scorn His will, imagine the reward for those who fulfill it!"

In another instance, the same four Sages visited the Temple ruins in Yerushalayim and saw a fox leave the Kodesh Hakodoshim, the holiest section of the Beis Hamikdosh. The first three started to cry, and Rebbi Akiva laughed. Slightly taken aback, they asked him, "Why are you laughing?" He replied, "Why are you crying?"

They told him, "The verse says, `The stranger that enters [the Kodesh Hakodoshim] should die.' Now a fox walks there; should we not cry?"

Rebbi Akiva said, "This is why I am laughing! Until the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem took place, the prophecy about its rebuilding could not take place. Now that the first has been fulfilled the second is forthcoming!"

The other Sages told him, "Akiva, you have comforted us!" (Makkos 24a-24b).

Crying is an extremely powerful tool that can comfort even the greatest sorrow. However, at times there is an even more potent means of dealing with difficult situations: laughter. Rebbi Akiva had the unique ability to see beyond what meets the eye without coming to tears. This brought him to a state of laughter and joy, which allowed him to see tremendous positive aspects of even the most despondent situations.

In these times of difficulty for the entire Jewish people, Rebbi Akiva's outlook is especially vital.

May Hashem give us the strength to learn from him, and to be able to view all that transpires around us in the most positive light that we are capable. In the merit of this endeavor, may we be privileged to experience the fulfillment of Rebbi Akiva's words, and see the Temple rebuilt quickly, in all of its splendor and glory.

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