A dear friend of mine, a young prominent rav, was going through a difficult illness. A person of refined character, he tried hard to remain upbeat and optimistic for the sake of his wife and children. He was therefore quite surprised when one morning, the nurse remarked: “Rabbi, be positive!”

The rabbi was taken aback by the nurse’s comment, given that he was painstakingly attempting to maintain a face of good cheer while navigating his own emotional roller coaster. Upon her return, he questioned her reproach. “I’ve tried so hard to keep my chin up and weather the storm. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, until your statement this morning. Am I doing something wrong?”

“No! No! Rabbi, not at all! Yesterday, you asked me what your blood type was. I was just giving you the test results. It’s B positive!”

Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman ztz”l gained renown for his zealousness in upholding authentic Yiddishkeit in an America that, for the most part, didn’t care. At his daughter’s wedding, he risked ridicule by insisting that there be separate dancing, that the women dress in modest attire, and that bentshers be distributed to all the tables. In addition, he paid the caterer for dessert, but instructed that it not be served, as a zecher l’Churban, to temper the celebration in memory of the Beis Hamikdash. He was from a rare breed of Jews who deeply felt the lack of our Holy Temple.

The Ribnitzer Rebbe ztz”l would dress in sackcloth on Tishah B’Av as he lamented the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and all the calamities that have befallen Klal Yisrael throughout the generations. In his great sensitivity to what the Beis Hamikdash represented, he was able to relive the tragedy, the tears flowing naturally from his holy eyes.

Unfortunately, for most of us, it is difficult to summon forth a tear, even on Tishah B’Av — let alone the rest of the year. I recall that as a child, my goal was to survive Tishah B’Av, rather than observe it. All too often, this remains the goal on Tishah B’Av for many adults as well, and we end up lamenting the length of the Kinnos more than the loss of Hashem’s abode.

Not only are we unable to cry, but in the process, we are dispossessed of an important tenet of Yiddishkeit: how to cry like a Jew. The Torah (Shemos 2:6) describes how Bas Pharaoh sees the baby Moshe in a basket in the river: “And she saw the boy, and behold, the youth was crying.” She then observed, “He must be from the children of the Hebrews.” Now, the Egyptian male babies were being cast into the river as well at that point, but she was able to discern — apparently from the way he cried, that he was a Jewish child. Asks the Slonimer Rebbe ztz”l: Was it possible to distinguish between the cry of a Jew and the cry of a non-Jew?

Indeed there is a distinction.

The cry of a Jew is a cry of hope. The cry of a non-Jew is a cry of despair.

The cry of a Jew is a cry for the future. The cry of a non-Jew is one of hopelessness.

Our tears are tears of sadness, but at the same time they are tears of faith in the Ribbono shel Olam’s chesed and impending yeshuah (salvation). Ours are heartfelt tears, bewailing all the devastation of being exiled from Yerushalayim — in the words of the kinnah, B’tzeisi MiYerushalayim — but at the same time, they look ahead to the song of ecstasy to be sung when we will return to Yerushalayim: “Gladness and joy will prevail while anguish and sighing will flee, beshuvi liYerushalayim, when I return to Yerushalayim.”

This is our signet, our legacy, the expertise of our ancestors. Our slogan has always been what Chizkiyahu Hamelech taught us (Brachos 10b): Afilu cherev chadah munachas al tzavaro shel adam — Even if a sharp sword is pointed at one’s neck, al yimna atzmo min harachamim — he should not refrain from entreating and petitioning Hashem’s mercy.

No matter what the situation, our motto is: “Be positive.”

This is why the Keruvim atop the Aron were embracing one another during the actual Churban (Yoma 54b), even though they typically would display estrangement when Klal Yisrael incurred Hashem’s wrath. And this is also why we do not recite Tachanun on Tishah B’Av, for, as alluded to in the pasuk in Eichah (1:15), “kara alai moed,” one day it will become a festival. Although that day has not yet come, the anticipation of good times is already present in our tears.

In a way, the homelessness, so to speak, of the Shechinah results in HaKadosh Baruch Hu living among us, which makes Him even more accessible, and dveikus more conducive. This idea is hinted to in a variant understanding of the pasuk in Eichah (1:3), “Kol rodfeha hisiguhah bein hametzarim — all of her pursuers caught up with her during the days of bein hametzarim.” Rather than a prediction of doom, the pasuk encourages that specifically during this inauspicious period of destruction and distance, kol rodef Kah, hisig Kah — all those who pursue the Ribbono shel Olam will find access during the three weeks known as bein hameitzarim.

And this is also why there is a tradition that Mashiach will be born on Tishah B’Av. Rather than standing in contradiction to the essence of the day, it is part and parcel of the positive aspects of Jewish tears.

The negative potential of the Ninth of Av was rooted in the sin of the Meraglim, the spies who returned on that date with their pessimistic report about Eretz Yisrael, prompting Klal Yisrael to cry. “You cried for no reason;” Hashem rebuked, “I will give you reason to cry for all future generations.” Tishah B’Av was established as the day of calamity because of unwarranted tears, a cry filled with hopelessness and negativity. It was the cry of a non-Jew, not the cry of a Yid. It didn’t include the Ribbono shel Olam. The tikkun is a cry accompanied by hope and promise, one of rebuilding and repairing — a cry that yearns for closeness to Hashem.

The pasuk in Tehillim (89:17) says, “B’shimcha yegilun kol hayom — In Your Name do we rejoice all day.” The first letters of these words spell out the word bechiyah, crying. What does crying have to do with rejoicing?

A Yid has every reason to connect the two because when a Jew cries, he also rejoices in the impending salvation. He rejoices in his never-ending relationship with his Father in Heaven. Beshimcha yegilun kol hayom — not only the entire day, but every day, even the most tragic, even the worst imaginable. Even on Tishah B’Av, or perhaps especially on Tishah B’Av.

There was a young boy whose father had to discipline him, and he began to cry. Almost immediately, he took a siddur and began to daven. When his father asked him to explain his unusual behavior, he said, “If I’m already crying, I might as well put the tears to good use.” This positive thinker grew up to become one of the gedolei hador, Harav Boruch Ber Leibowitz ztz”l.

Our task is to turn every tear into a prayer. Whether we are peeling onions or preparing the maror on Erev Pesach, or chas v’shalom bemoaning a serious life issue, let us always remember how precious the tears of Yidden are to Hashem when they are used as a conduit to bring us closer to Him.

It was Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar of 2008, toward evening, as the new month of Adar Sheini was about to begin. On our way to Har Nof, we were about to pass Yeshivat Merkaz Harav. Then we saw the police, the street roped off, people running frantically, and we heard the screams, and then the shots ring out that mercilessly cut down the lives of the eight kedoshim H”yd. Even after we were whisked away from the scene, we remained frozen in shock from what we had just witnessed.

That night, I was scheduled to speak at Yeshivas Ner Yaakov, at a gathering to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar and the feeling of excitement it usually generates. But this year was different. We all sat there stunned by the events of the evening, trying desperately to reconcile the intense mourning with a call to increase in joy for Adar. Then it came together. The greatest joy possible is to feel the presence of the Ribbono shel Olam, to feel close to Him, to recognize how small we are and how great He is; to understand how desperately we are dependent on Him and how incapable we are without His constant infusion of life and vitality; to perceive that our knowledge is so limited, and that we therefore subjugate ourselves to His mastery of the world and all that transpires — for Hashem sees and knows the whole picture. With tears in our eyes, we rejoiced in the knowledge that someday we will merit to see the good even in such a calamity, and that indeed the time will come when we will sing and dance upon our return to Yerushalayim bi’meheirah b’yameinu. 

    Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 670. Rabbi Yehoshua Kurland, a close talmid of Harav Shlomo Freifeld ztz”l, has served as a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Sh’or Yoshuv for the past 40 years. 

A talented orator and author, his books include: A Time to Laugh, A Time to Listen (3 volumes); A Bit of Wit, A World of Wisdom (2 volumes); Tefillah Tips; A Time to Dance (on marriage); A Time to Conceal A Time to Reveal (on Purim and Chanukah); and the soon-to-be-published Kosher Laughs and Lessons for Life.