Menachem Creditor

Vayeitzei: The Nature of Tears

The prophet Jeremiah, channeling God’s tears, once poured out:

But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret (bemistarim) for your arrogance; My eye must stream and flow with copious tears, Because the flock of Adonai is taken captive.[1]

God cries. The people whom God has birthed with such pain and longing has thrown itself away. God, who desires to be known and understood by God’s creation is left abandoned and crying as would-be lovers and companions—those who could come and remove some piece of God’s sorrow—all run off to other gods. God is injured by those best able to provide comfort. So God weeps in God’s inner chambers,[2] a place called Mistarim, away from those who have brought pain and suffering, knowing the future they are bringing upon themselves is coming. Even with God’s eyes shut, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Israelites, the suffering that will now come upon God’s creation, is clear and inevitable. They have been exposed to the disease, and they are unaware as it grows inside of them until it is far too late.

Leah cries. With eyes closed, does she see flashes of a twisted future, her life as an eldest child upended by fate?[3] When Jacob arrives, does Leah recognize the complicated inner life of a man for whose love she would be forced to compete for the rest of her days? Her eyes soften[4] at the sight of him. What did she see through this veil of tears? Perhaps she saw a person with the capacity to roll the heavy well-stone[5] of her own destiny away. The veil was removed, and, in the morning, there was Leah![6]

Rachel cries. Jeremiah recounts:

A cry is heard in Ramah— Wailing, bitter weeping— Rachel weeping for her children.[7]

What God saw with eyes shut, Rachel lives through tears: her children and Leah’s children both exiled. Those who preached apocalyptic visions stand correct. Hope is lost. The world has come to an end.

There are those who see the tears of God or Rachel (and/or their own) and declare that everything is lost forever, the apocalypse just around the corner has come to stay. But there are also those who see tears and declare that eutopia is equally near, if only Jacob (or anyone) would choose us.

Both perspectives are mistaken about the nature of tears and softening role they play.

We should allow the tears to wash away the pretenses of hysteria, allowing us to look at the world as it is. Then we can return from the suffering and recognize the ways in which we can improve what is here and now. After Rachel’s crying, God emerges from Mistarim, eyes cleared from so many tears, to proclaim the destiny of the Jewish people, of Leah’s soft-eyed decedents:

Thus said Adonai: Keep your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears; For there is a reward for your labor —declares Adonai: They shall return from the enemy’s land.[8]

May our tears come when they must. May they do the holy things tears do. May we be blessed to be part of many great returns: to self, to home, and to each other.

[1] Jer. 13:17

[2] Chagigah 5b

[3]Leah thought she would have to fall to the lot of Esau and she therefore wept continually, because everyone said, ‘Rebecca has two sons, Laban has two daughters — the elder daughter for the elder son, the younger daughter for the younger son.’” (Breisheet Rabbah 70:16)

[4] Gen. 29:17

[5] Gen. 29:10

[6] Gen. 29:25

[7] Jer. 31:15

[8] Jer. 31:16

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor serves as the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York and was the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. An acclaimed author, scholar, and speaker with over 2 million views of his online videos and essays, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. His 31 books and 6 albums of original music include "A Year of Torah," the global anthem "Olam Chesed Yibaneh" and the COVID-era 2-volume anthology "When We Turned Within." He and his wife Neshama Carlebach live in New York, where they are raising their five children.
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