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Home » D'varim Parshah, Ninth of Av, Tragedy

Devarim: When Crying is not Enough

Submitted by on July 15, 2007 – 3:02 amNo Comment | 3,691 views

Emotional Death

“Rabbi,” he wailed, “my wife of seventeen years has just passed on and I cannot live without her.” This cry pierced me to the core. I empathized and soothed in every way I could. In the end, the words that resonated with him were, “Don’t compound your wife’s physical passing with your emotional death.”

Tears, anguish and pain are conventional responses to tragedy. Who can maintain composure when a loved one is lowered to the grave? Expressions of grief are spontaneous; they are meant to vent the overwhelming tension we feel within. They are also meant to be cathartic.

The sense of pain and loss is never dulled. Nevertheless, the passage of time caresses our wound and heals its rawness. It is always there; a hollow in the pit of our stomach, an ache that cannot be soothed and a void that cannot be filled, but it is not the paralyzing grief that arrests us for the first few weeks. The shock recedes even if the pain does not; we embrace the living with love and life goes on.

Building Families

Our sages speak with pride of the constructive behavior of Chananya Mishael and Azarya, three illustrious Jewish leaders, who were exiled to Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

What did Chananya Mishael and Azarya do after they emerged miraculously from the flaming ovens into which they were hurled? They returned to Israel, married and rebuilt their families. The Jewish exile and the state of its people was certainly worthy of mourning. It surely arrested them for a while and held them in the firm grip of shock. But they were resolute. They forced themselves to recover and move forward. The Jewish people needed rebuilding and that is what they set out to do. (1)

After the holocaust many survivors couldn’t come to grips with the reality and enormity of their loss. They had faced the greatest horrors of our time; they were hurled into the flaming ovens of Aushwitz and Treblinka. Yet, stupefied, though they were, they forced themselves to survive. when crying is not enough - innerstream

They are the greatest heroes of our time for they overcame the greatest enemy of our time; their own paralysis. The Jewish people are eternally indebted to these towering souls, who reached for life through their tears and built families despite their grief.

If you are the child of a survivor you know exactly what I mean. These people didn’t forget their loss. They lived with their horror every day, but they opted for life. They married, had children and built Jewish families. They revitalized our people. They are the ultimate victors of the war. With their steadfast determination they foiled Hitler’s plan.

Debilitating Tears

Our patriarch Isaac lost his eyesight in his elder years. Isaac was so blind as to be unable to distinguish Jacob from Esau. He intended to bless Esau, but Jacob, masquerading as Esau, surreptitiously gained the blessings.  (2) What caused Isac’s blindness? Our sages taught that during the Binding of Isaac the angels cried and their tears fell into Isaac’s eyes This weakened his eyesight and blinded him completely in his old age. (3)

This interpretation cannot be taken literally. Angels don’t shed physical tears and even if they did, they would surely have known the consequence of crying into Isac’s eyes. Couldn’t they direct their tears elsewhere?

After the Holocaust there was a rabbi, who explained this passage as a homily intended to teach us the following lesson. When Jewry is threatened with extinction, crying is not enough. If all we do is cry, we are liable to raise a generation, unable to discern between Jacob and Esau. (4)

This insightful explanation requires no further elaboration, but on risk of redundancy I shall offer a comment. In the past fifty years many educators have turned Holocaust Studies into a pillar of Jewish education. Today, all educators agree that Jewish ignorance is the primary reason for intermarriage.

In addition to teaching
our children the horrors of the holocaust we must inculcate them with pride for Judaism. Learning about Jewish suffering doesn’t endow them with Jewish pride. It doesn’t give them reason to be proud. Horror and pride are not handmaidens.

Holocaust Education, in its current form, has failed because it enables our children to cry for the six million, but it doesn’t prepare them to rebuild the six million. Tears don’t build generations.

We must give our children something to be proud of. We must familiarize them with the teachings of the Torah and the beauty of our heritage. We must show them the depth of our faith and the richness of our tradition. Only then dare we hope that our children will discern between the nation of Jacob and that of Esau when selecting their partners in marriage.

A Constructive Response

The Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av is the anniversary of the destruction of both Jewish temples. The first temple was destroyed by Babylon in 350 BCE. The second temple was destroyed by Rome  in 69 CE. This day has been set aside by our prophets and sages for national mourning.

The years haven’t dulled our ache nor have they replaced our loss. Our nation was decimated; our finest were murdered and our greatest were exiled. Our capital was plowed over and our temple burned to ashes.  How can we not cry when confronted by the enormity of our loss?

Indeed, on the ninth of Av we are reduced to tears as we lament our loss and revisit our pain. When this day arrives every Jewish soul is stirred. Yet this is only one day in the year. The very next day we are meant to collect our shards and rebuild them into a renewed and revitalized whole.

We are meant to make our people whole again and usher in the era  when our temple will be rebuilt and our exiles returned. One day we cry for the prophecies of doom, but the rest of the year we work to realize the prophecies of promise and hope. “The elderly will once again sit in the squares of Jerusalem. . . It’s streets will fill with children and they will play in it’s open spaces.” (5)

This is why Jews have a tradition that on the Shabbat before the ninth of Av every Jewish soul is provided a glimpse of the temple that will be built in the era of the Moshiach. This awesome and inspiring vision is not beheld by our physical eyes, but by our soul. The purpose of this vision is to drive us toward its fulfillment. (6)

Before the Ninth of Av even dawns our souls are instructed to limit the scope of our tears. We must remember our enduring goal, we must remember to pick up our shards and rebuild our glory. Without this vision, the Ninth of Av is impotent. Simply put, crying is never enough.


  1. Yalkut Shimoni on Daniel, ch. 3. They were hurled into the ovens because they refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idols. For more details read Daniel Chapter 3.
  2. Genesis 27
  3. See Rashi’s (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) commentary to Genesis 27: 1. G-d instructed Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. This was the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith. The only way to test Abraham’s faith was to ensure the secrecy of the fact that it was a test. Even the angels didn’t realize the instruction was a test. If the angels knew, Abraham would presumably have known as well.
  4. As heard by the author from Rabbi Manis Friedman.
  5. Zacharia 8: 4-6. See also Bab. Talmud Makot, 24b.
  6. Quoted by R. Hilel of Paritch in the name of R. Levik of Bardichev (1740-1810) . See Tzemach Tedek’s (R.Menachem M. Schneerson, Third Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1789-1866) notes to Eicha p. 45.

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