The Stars Are Listening To Your Tears

Sometimes, you have to cry with your neighbor.

In the story of the Spies in the Torah, we learn that a group of 12 men are sent into the land of Canaan to understand its state before the Israelites were to enter it after their journey from Egypt. They came back, and the majority of them reported an overwhelming challenge.

Fear and panic rippled through the people, and ultimately, they shouted that God was bringing them to their deaths. God declared that their lack of faith meant none of them would make it to the land. They would wander for decades, and only their descendants would survive to make it into the land flowing with milk and honey.

The night that the Israelites heard that report, according to Sanhedrin 104b, was Tisha B’av. This night, the one we claim to be the worst day in Jewish history, is observed every year to commemorate the two Temples being destroyed, among other disasters.

In the book of Lamentations, it is written, “She surely cries [bakho tivke] at night” (Lamentations 1:2), and the Talmud says this is about our crying over these Temple destructions.

But then, the Talmud doesn’t seem satisfied by this answer. We know this because it keeps offering alternative explanations and the doubling of language here, translated as “surely cries,” is an opportunity for greater interpretation.

Alternatively, “at night” refers to anyone who cries at night, their voice is heard. Alternatively, “at night” refers to anyone who cries at night, the stars and constellations cry with them. Alternatively, “at night” refers to anyone who cries at night, the one who hears their voice cries with them.

There was a story of one woman, in the neighborhood of Rabban Gamliel, whose son had died and she was crying over him at night. Rabban Gamliel heard her voice and cried with her until his eyelashes fell out. The next day, his students recognized that he had been crying, and they took her from his neighborhood.

What does “at night” mean? It means that someone who cries is heard. The universe hears them. Those around them see and cry with them.

This is a powerful statement of caring and community.

This is a message of recognition that none of us are truly alone. And then, we get the story of the person who has suffered the loss of a child and who is comforted by Rabban Gamliel.

When I first read this story, I felt ashamed of the students. They saw their teacher providing care and love to someone who needed it, and they removed her as a distraction.

But that is not what the text actually says. Upon reading the text, I assumed that the students of the rabbis would do anything to continue Torah study. It isn’t such a stretch, and we’ve seen the students of the rabbi do all sorts of wild things.

We don’t get any additional information on this story, and the Talmud doesn’t give us any further explanation of what happened.

I’m going to offer a bit of Midrash, what I hope happened:

Rabban Gamliel hears someone crying from an open window at night and goes to investigate. He finds the woman in tears and sits on the floor with her. He sees her pain and is overwhelmed by it. He cannot help but break down beside her and cry.

Amidst the tears, Rabban Gamliel learns that the woman’s family lives nearby but not close enough to help her. She needs support but cannot seem to find it on her own. She wants to move closer to her family but cannot move without help.

In the morning, as Rabban Gamliel’s students see his eyes red and puffy from crying, they discover the woman’s plight and needs. They rally together and help move her from Rabban Gamliel’s neighborhood to a place with family and people who can care for her in the way she needs.

Is this what happened? There’s no way to know for sure. But I hope so. This encounter from the Talmud teaches us two important lessons:

First, we are never truly alone. There are those around us, even far away, who care for us, who empathize with us, and who cry with us.

Second, our perceptions co-create reality. We could have read this story in many different ways, to the students’ advantage, highlighting their kindness and awareness, or to their disadvantage, making them look selfish and uncaring.

This is a reminder that not everyone cries out so loudly that their neighbor rabbi will hear them. Sometimes, we only get a small bit of the story. Sometimes, we don’t get anything. During any given day, week, or month, we have many encounters that invite us to lean in, seek out ways to be kind and supportive, and cry beside someone.

The stars and constellations know this and the world is a better place when we join them.

Thank you for reading! In my With Torah and Love newsletter, I write about Torah, Talmud, self-awareness, and becoming our best selves as students of life and Judaism.

About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.

He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.