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Simchat Torah: Two Types of Tears Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Simchat Torah—September 26, 2013

Our tradition tells us that there are two kinds of tears- there are tears of regret and tears of sadness. This teaching seems especially appropriate for the Yizkor of Simchat Torah, coming as it does at the very conclusion of the Days of Awe.

We are taught to use the month of Elul to reconcile with friends and family members from whom we have become estranged, but if we don’t, there remains the Ten Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to do so. If we don’t act during those ten days there is Yom Kippur itself, until the gates close at Neilah. But as I’ve mentioned and as you have seen, we keep the white mantles on the Torah scrolls until tonight and wear our white tallitot as well, because the High Holiday season doesn’t quite end with Yom Kippur but continues all the way through Simchat Torah. But what if even through Simchat Torah we have not done the work of our repentance; then the Talmud reassures us, the gates of tears are always open.

In contrast to the tears of regret that we shed, the tears of sadness are considered the purer tears. Our tradition describes these tears as sweet because they are distilled from loving memories and caring.

It seems to have been a custom in ancient times to collect the tears of the bereaved and bury them with the dead. Archeologists believe that they have found small bottles designed for this express purpose. This is mentioned in the Talmud, where the rabbis understood Psalm 56:7 to be the psalmist asking God “to place his tears in God’s water skin,” and in the Midrash we find reference to God collecting the tears of mourners for they are precious, coming directly from the soul.

Though our tradition talks about tears of regret and tears of sadness as two separate categories, I think for most of us they are intermingled. Very few of us mourn without some regret, and often our regrets about other things include some measure of sadness as well. But the tears that come to our eyes both for regret and for sadness are counted as meritorious. They are considered a positive reflection of our souls, for who we are is, in some measure, a reflection of that which we care about enough to cry. Hazorim bedimah berinah yikztoru. May those who sow in tears, someday reap in gladness.

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