Is there a uniquely Jewish cry or do Jews cry like everyone else? On the surface, the Jewish cry is no different than the non-Jewish cry. But the Torah seems to say different. There is a uniquely Jewish cry.
When Batya, Pharoh’s daughter, was bathing in the Nile River, she noticed a basket floating by and snagged it. “She opened it and saw the child, and behold the child was crying. She took pity on it and said, it’s a Jewish boy.” The little boy was Moses, of course, and Batya rescued him and raised him in her father’s home.
- This passage is filled with questions. She saw the child crying, Could she not hear him? Was she deaf or was Moses crying silently?
- All she saw was a crying child, how did she know he was a Jew, what gave it away?
Seeing is Believing
Indeed, the Torah doesn’t say that Batya heard the child’s cry. This is because it doesn’t need to be mentioned. If Moses was crying, Batya surely heard. The question is, did she see it?
How often do we hear about another person’s plight and cluck our tongues before moving away? It’s not my problem, why should it bother me? It takes a special person to stop everything and internalize another person’s cry. Baya didn’t dismiss this little child and throw him back into the river.
There are two ways to go fishing. The first is to fish for dinner, the second is to fish for sport. How can you tell which is which? Those who fish for dinner keep their fish, those who fish for sport, throw their fish back into the ocean. They think they are being kind and sensitive by sparing the life of the fish.
How would you like it if you were walking down the street and some monstrous being at the top of a building hooked you by the palette and snagged you with a fishing line. How would you like if the monster let you dangle in the wind while he reeled you up to the roof. Then, when you finally arrived and were unhooked, the monster picked you up and unceremoniously hurled you back to the ground. Would you be grateful? Would you call up to thank the monster for his sensitivity and kindness?
You were crying all the way up and down, did the monster not hear you? The answer is he heard you alright, but he didn’t see you. He only saw his sport. He was having fun letting you dangle from the line.
Batya didn’t just hear Moses’ cry. She saw it and saved him. Seeing is believing. When you hear about something, it is easy to disbelieve it. When you see it, you believe it. Batya saw it.
The Silent Cry
Reb Bunim of Pshischa, one of the great Chassidic masters, took a different approach. He said that indeed Moses was crying silently. This is why Batya didn’t know he was crying until she opened the basket and saw him. The message says Reb Bunim is to always be attuned to a Jewish cry.
The Zohar, the preeminent work of Kabalah, tells us that the cry that Batya heard in the Nile was the perennial cry of the Jewish people in exile. In the diaspora, it is easy to assimilate into the culture of our host nations and be less observant or less aware of our Jewishness. This doesn’t mean that we are happy about it. In our silent way, we each wish that we could live a more immersive Jewish life. We feel badly that our lifestyle has veered from the path of Torah.
On the surface, this cry is not audible. On the surface, we seem to be enjoying life. But internally, the Jew feels a schism. An inner voice cries within our soul that says, I am a Jew, I don’t really belong here. This voice can’t be heard; it’s inaudible on the surface. On the surface, this Jew looks like any other person. But don’t look at the surface, look within. If you look deep into the Jew’s eyes, you will see a tortured unhappiness that cries out, I am not at home. I am not comfortable.
This is a uniquely Jewish cry that can be seen even when it can’t be heard. The Zohar tells us that G-d can hear this cry. The Torah tells us that Batya heard this cry. Though Moses was an infant, he was born to be a Jewish leader and he cried the cry of his people. Batya heard it and was moved.
We must hear this cry too. We may never allow ourselves to become so immersed in our own lives that we can’t hear this silent plaintive Jewish cry. It is easy to judge others for not living up to our standards. But the truly empathetic person looks deeper and hears this internal Jewish cry. We hear it and we act. We embrace our fellow Jew and show them that path that leads back home.
This reminds me of a story about Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and his son, Reb Dovber of Lubavitch. One evening, Reb Shneur Zalman was studying in his apartment upstairs while his son was studying in the downstairs apartment. Reb Dovber’s baby awoke and cried, but his father was so engrossed that he didn’t hear the baby’s cry. The grandfather came downstairs and put the baby back to sleep.
The next morning, Reb Shneur Zalman said to his son, we must never be so engrossed in our studies that we fail to hear a baby’s cry. Indeed, the message is powerful. We must never become so immersed in our own observance, our own study, our own concerns, spiritual or material, that we fail to see the Jewish cry. That we fail to discern the inner spiritual pain of a fellow Jew. If we feel it, we will see it. If we see it, we will be moved. Moved enough to turn over heaven and earth to come to their assistance.
The Ticking Clock
Rabbi Yissachor Dov of Radoshitz once overnighted at an inn. He didn’t sleep a wink all night despite his fatigue. Instead, he danced all night with great joy. In the morning, he asked the innkeeper where the clock came from. It turned out that Rabbi Yosef of Torchin, son of the great Reb Yakov Yitzchak Halevi Horowitz—Seer of Lublin, had overnighted at this inn several years earlier. Reb Yosef did not have money to pay for his lodgings, so he gave the innkeeper his father’s clock.
Rabbi Yissachor Dov explained that it now made sense. Every clock in the world clicks with a sad message. One more second of life has passed, you are one second closer to death. My teacher, the Seer’s clock ticked with a different message. It said, one second closer to mashiach, one second closer to Redemption. I recognized this tick tock from my teacher’s study. No wonder I danced all night.
Said Rabbi Morechai Chaim, the Rebbe of Slonim, that this is how Moses cried. Life in Egypt was harsh, and Moses cried for the plight of his people. But he didn’t cry with despair. His cries echoed his absolute belief that with each passing moment, relief and redemption were inching closer. This is a uniquely Jewish cry.
We asked how Batya knew at a glance that the child was Jewish? The answer is that she recognized the uniquely Jewish cry. The cry that says redemption is at hand, relief is around the corner. Don’t despair, soon very soon, all will be good.