PURIM Unmasked

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By: Rabbi Max Anteby

In the past several months we have seen the passing of many of the giants of our community. There have also been too many tragic events in the Jewish world at large, while each one of us may have experienced our own personal tragedies or losses.

They are each worthy of tears. But why cry?  Are these acts not the will of Hashem?  Is there a failing in us if we give vent to our personal feelings of sorrow by crying?  Indeed not.

The Torah makes it clear.  “Vayabo Abraham lispod l’Sarah v’libkotah.”  Abraham Avinu came to eulogize the passing of Sarah Immeinu and to cry. Why does the Torah tell us that he cried? Isn’t it enough that he eulogized the passing of his beloved Sarah?  Our Sages tell us, no, crying was necessary.

Tears are meant to be therapeutic. The prophet Yirmeyahu didn’t consider it beneath his dignity to cry, “Oh, that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears.”  David Hamelech says in Tehillim, “I melt away my couch with tears.”  When we hold ourselves back from crying, we are denying ourselves the great gift given to us through Adam and Chava at the beginning of time.

The Midrash asks the question – when was the first time that human beings cried?  It provides us with a beautiful, uplifting answer.

Adam and Chava had just eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and had to suffer the consequences of their sin. Hashem told them that they had to leave Gan Eden and no longer enjoy their divinely blessed environment. He consoles them – “Even though I have driven you out of Gan Eden, I want you to know that my love for you will never end. You will be going out into a world with much trial and tribulation, that will at times bring you sorrow. For this reason, I have taken out of my Heavenly treasure-house this priceless pearl. Look! It is a tear! When grief overtakes you and your heart aches so that you are unable to bear it, then there will fall from your eye this tiny tear. And your burden will grow lighter.”

A beautiful story.  Is it true?  We don’t need science to prove the words of our rabbis, but indeed they do.  It is well known that there are three types of tears in the structure of the eye.  (1) The ongoing secretions that lubricate the eyes and maintain health, (2) the reflex response when a foreign object gets in the eye and needs to be flushed out, and (3) the type of tears that comes in response to emotion. 

It has recently been discovered that only emotional tears, the type emitted when a person is overcome with great pain or sorrow, produced a significant amount of serotonin, known as the happy chemical.  That is the same chemical transmitter used in anti-depressants. Only the human race has been graced with the unique ability to produce tears of emotion. It seems that Hashem Himself has provided the body with the mechanism it needs to wash away our pain and grief.

We should all be blessed with happy occasions and klal Yisrael should know no more sorrow. But we must realize that even if we are brought to tears in times of sorrow, it’s okay to go ahead and cry. Hashem has decreed in His great wisdom and kindness that the tears we cry are really tears of joy.