Friday, May 01, 2009

Cry Out To The Lord: The Spiritual Power of Weeping in Judaism

Weeping, biologists now tell us, is a useful mechanism for keeping our body in balance (The Mystery of Tears, William Frey). Jewish tradition has always weeping a great tool for maintaining spiritual equalibrium. As the Yiddish proverb goes, "Tears are to the soul what soap is to the body." There are branches of Jewish thought that take the idea of tears cleansing the soul quite seriously (Talmud A.V. 17a). In the Zohar we are told,

If a person grieves and sheds tears for the death of Aaron’s two sons, God declares, ‘Your sin has left and your iniquity has been atoned for’ [Isaiah 6:7]”


"...all those that are pained from those righteous who have died, or who sheds tears for them, God proclaims over him, 'Your sins are remove, your iniquities atoned for.'" (Zohar 3:57b).

The significance of weeping is in Zohar is complex and wide-ranging, often being the necessary precursor to revealing a divine secret, a marker that the revealor is spiritual cognisant of the awesome nature of what he is about to do (Fishbane, Eitan. “Tears of Disclosure: The Role of Weeping in Zoharic Narrative,” The Journal of Jewish
Thought and Philosophy
, Volume 11, No. 1) and appears in many phases of Jewish mystical tradition.

Thus, weeping can induce visions (II Enoch; Zohar 1:4a, 3:166b; Sefer ha-Hezyonot). It has the power to draw the Shekhinah to one who cries in worship (Reshit Chochmah). Hasidic figures like the Kotzker Rebbe and the Seer of Lublin encouraged weeping as a spiritual discipline (Idel, M., Kabbalah New Perspectives). The tears of the righteous have the power of Torah; in some cases, they even turn into words of Torah when they fall ("Sealing the Book with Tears," Nechemia Polen).

Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


Anonymous Charles said...

If one makes weeping a "spiritual discipline" -- a ceremonial weeping-on-demand sort of exercise, wouldn't that rob weeping of its heartfelt spontaniety and sense of the genuine?

9:15 AM  

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