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Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel: The Trail of 100 Tears

Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel

A Pictorial, Vidorial, and Textorial Panorama of the Life of Yeshiva Guys in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). Join us as we discover Eretz Yisroel and all it has to offer Yeshiva Bochurim.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Trail of 100 Tears

Below find a D'var Torah on Rosh Hashana. I don't normally publish Divrei Torah here, but l'kavod Rosh Hashana... I hope the below shtickel inspires you. It did me.
I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you, dear reader, and all of Klal Yisroel a K'sivah V'Chasima Tovah, and a gut gebenschte yur!

Hopefully, you'll be crying in just a few short hours. Crying and wailing like you've never cried before. Allow me to explain.
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 never close.
Why? What about tears that make them so formidable as to have the ability to penetrate the heavenly gates where even prayer must stand back?
As we know, tears and the associated wails 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. These tekios (according to the above Gemara(*2), are either to arouse tears, or are metaphysical wails themselves. As R' Shamshon Refoel Hirsch (*3) puts it; "Teruah makes you quiver, it softens you, it subdues you before G-d."
Come Rosh Hashana, we will all sit through the many- and dare I say it?- repetitious blowings. But how many do we actually blow? And more to the point, why so many: Why the repetitive blowing? This question is especially troubling when you consider that M'Doraysah, as per Shulchan Aruch/Tur(*4), only nine sounds are mandated? So why the hundred that we end up doing?
One of the reasons is a fascinating Tosfos(*19) who brings down an Aruch(*20), according to whom the reason we blow 100 "blowings" counteract or match the 100 moans of the mother of Sisrah.
The mother of Sisrah, you say thoughtfully...never heard of her, huh?
The Navi in Shoftim (*5/also know as Shiras Devorah) describes an wondrous battle that took place between this fellow, Sisrah, and the Jews living in the land of Eretz Yisroel at the time. It's also worthwhile to bring down the Midrash here(*6), which provides us with some spellbinding background on this Sisrah: Apparently, this Sisrah was no slouch. He was leading a force of four billion! men against the Jews. Prior to this, he'd conquered the entire world; all he had to do was roar, and walls would fall- literally. All this before the age of 30...Talk about a focused individual.
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? Of course, 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 Sisrah's power and so dangerous was the potential outcome of this campaign of his.
Yes, it sound distinctly Lords of the Rings-ish, but it happened.
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, yet again. Only this time, his return is assisted- by pallbearers. And when she beholds this sad sight (or before, when she realizes*21), she is moved to tears.
"...Va'T'Yavev Aim Sisrah", says the pasuk. The mother of Sisrah wailed(*8).
And not just any wails were these. These were one hundred tears so powerful that for some reason we are required to counter those tears with one hundred of our own wails (the cries of the shofar). And so we encounter this theme again; the power of the tear/wail.
Only this time, the cries are of a different nature; these are cries of a gentile, whom we know has considerably less kedusha than a Jew(*22), 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(*23)?
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, a 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 whole wails matter; why bring the wails into the picture at all?
To solve this perplexing dilemma- this powerful puissance of these wails- we must examine an oft-quoted story that took place some two thousand years ago, plus change.
Yirmiyahu the Prophet(*10) was sitting and lamenting the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash (the Temple). As he sat, shedding his tears, Plato (some say Aristotle) came upon him. The Greek philosopher had joined the conquering forces on their trip to Jerusalem, and was now walking about. 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 taken place. It is in the past. 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 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. 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. Surely he could have understand the answer, whatever it was. And certainly when one considers that a Prophet himself would have been explaining it!
The answer to both our conundrums, -A) why we counteract the tears of this rasha's mother, a marsha'as herself(*24), 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.
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 her inner knowledge of her son's death finally crystallized. 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.
For the tears of a Jew can perform wonders. They are tears not of hopelessness, but of hope. They can "go places even prayer cannot". And they express the underlying conviction we all hold so dear- that Hashem will hear our prayer and tears. The Midrash tells us that Hashem lovingly tallies wach tear that his children shed, and He caches it in a flask. When the flask is finally full, Moshiach will come.
The Pasuk (*12) says that when Pharos' daughter, Basya, went down to the Nile to bathe/convert, she heard the cries of an infant in the water. And she knew the baby was a Jew-"...She said from the children of the Jews [he] is". How? She discerned in the infant's sobbing the note of hope, and not of despair(*13).
And because this is so, because our tears hold within them this force, Yirmiyahu cried. He sheds a tear at the recent loss of the Temple (*18) , but with that identical tear is crying to bring it back.
And we, too, cry.
We cry on Tisha Ba'av, we cry at times of loss, and we cry on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And the call of the Shofar, a symbol of the Jewish cry or tear, illustrates the essential difference between our cries and their cries.
So hopefully, we will bemoan 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 wants nothing more than for us to pass this Great Day of Judgement. But He must do so without compromising. So He waits for our guilt-ridden tears. And He hopes we will cry. Because with our tears, our tears of simultaneous regret 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), too, 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]".
So let us utilize this coming Rosh Hashana to cry, and wail. Let us cry like never before. And let us make sure to cry Jewish tears; tears not only of regret, but also tears of hope. 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.

*Mareh Mekomos
B"M 59A; Ayin Maharam Shif (al hadaf) -The gates were closed when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.
Maseches Rosh Hashana (33B), "Genuchai ganoch/Yelulai yalil, etc.
Horeb, (Grunfeld Translation/Soncino Press) Chapter 32- The Shofar, 228.
Also see his fascinating explanation of the precise, unique
nature of the Tekiah, Teruah, and Shvorim (227, 231).
Shulchan Aruch/Tur, Orech Chaim, Siman 590, Seif Kattan 1.
Shoftim Perek 5:1-31
Yalkut Shimoni
Shoftim 5:20
Shoftim 5:28 "B'ad Hachalon Nishkafah, Va'Tyavev Aim Sisrah...etc." Also see Zohar beginning of Parsha Balak who explains the nature of this window.
As in "K'Rachem Av al Banim" etc. I forgot where I saw this p'shat.
Toras Ha'oloh (R"MA) Chelek 1:Perek 11, Seder Hadoros (Shanah 3300), and Shalsheles Hakabalah 101A/1- who changes to Aristotle for chronological reasons, etc. Also see the Hakdamah of Otzar Hamidrashim, Yirmiyahu.
Moreh Nevuchim (Chelek 2:)
Shmos 2:6
Ma'ayonos HaNetzach B'Shem R' Moshe Chaim of Slonim
Moreh Nevuchim (Chelek 3:43)
Yad Hachazakah Perek 3:Halacha 4
Bais Ha'Bchirah Maseches Rosh Hashana 16A
Igros 7B
Yirmiyahu 13/Chagigah 5. He actually shed three tears- one for the first Temple destroyed at the time, one for the Second Temple that was to be destroyed, and the third is a matter of debate. See the above Gemara.
Maseches Rosh Hashana (33B), Tosfos D"H "Shiur Teruah...". This idea is also referred to by the Zohar- R' Moshe Shapiro.
Aruch Erech "Erev". First listing. -This Aruch was the earliest source I was able to find inside. If anyone should happen to know of an earlier source, please let me know.
See the loshon in the pasuk (Shoftim 5:28) "...Madua Boshesh"- apparently, she realized even before his dead body arrived home that he had died from his delay in returning. Some compare this loshon to the same  (Shemos 32:1)"...Ki Boshesh Moshe Laredes Min Hahar" where Klal Yisroel doubts Moshe Rabeinu's return because of his apparent delay.
See RMCH"L and others who explain that a goy does not have a neshama.
True, the gemara in Megillah does bring down that Mordechai HaYehudi was made to cry out in anguish to "pay" for our forefather Yaakov Avinu having made Esav, his brother, cry out (Bereishis 27:34 "VaYitzak Tza'akah Gedolah U'Marah Ad Meod"). Here, however, Sisrah was killed only as a matter of life and death- there was no possible question of unfair play (although the Meforshim debate even this by Yaakov).
For who Sisrah was al pi sod, see: RC"V Sh"Hg, Hakdamah, 36 who brings down the A"Z. Also see the R"M M"P, E"M, Chikur Hadin 5:11 who discusses the nature of the "genealogy" of Sisrah and Sisrah's mother.
I sourced some of this material from R' Dovid Cohen's sefer "Ma'amarei HaRamchal. Also Afikei Mayim (Yomim Norayim) of R' Moshe Shapiro's ma'amarim. Also would like to thank the two anonymous individuals who helped me with some of the seed and supporting material. Yasher Koach.

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Blogger sts said...

Quite the range of sources here - R' Hirsch to Toras ha'Olah. I didn't realise any other Yeshiva guys had even heard of the latter. Duly impressed.

September 30, 2009 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger Mark SoFla said...

Regarding the 4 billion number, I think the Yalkut Shimoni can be read a different way.

סיסרא בא עליהם בארבעים אלף ראשי גייסות וכל אחד היה עמו מאה אלף ובן שלשים שנה היה וכבש כל העולם

It could be read such that "עמו" refers to Sisra. So that would mean there were 40,000 "ראשי גייסות" (let's call them expert soldiers/fighters) and a total of 100,000 under command (60,000 additional, call them "support" personnel for the expert fighters). So, not 4 billion, but rather 100,000 which was a hugely formidable army at those times and could have captured the "entire" world (i.e. the entire known world to them at the time).

In Melachim*, when the Malach Hashem killed most of the 185,000 soldiers in Machana Ashur, Rashi calls them all "ראשי גייסות" which shows that an entire grouping of soldiers could be called such. This is also mentioned in the Gemara in Sanhedrin, Daf Zadi Heh, Amud Bet.

* Melachim Bet, Perek Yod Tet, Pasuk Lamed Heh.

October 8, 2009 at 9:00 PM  

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