Divine Tears: The Zohar on Weeping
By: Geoffrey Dennis
I made an earlier entry on weeping as a spiritual practice in Jewish tradition. I also alluded to the idea that God weeps. In the Zohar, the distinction between divine and mortal tears blurs in fascinating and beautiful ways. Here we have a passage which suggests that heartfelt tears are actually a manifestation of the Divine Presence (Shekhinah
The great Rabbi Hiyya went to the masters of Mishna to learn from them.
He went to R. Shimon ben Yohai and he saw a curtain was blocking the entrance to the house. R. Hiyya was astonished and said: I will hear something from his mouth from here. He heard R. Shimon saying, “Hurry my beloved, swift as a gazelle or a young stag, to the hill of spices…”
R, Hiyya heard this and said: Exalted ones are engaged in the house and I am sitting outside! He wept.
R. Shimon heard this and said: the Shekhinah is surely outside! [The Midrash repeatedly describes the Shekhinah as weeping out of love for exiled Israel. Here Hiyya's tears at being "exiled" from the scholars is taken by Rabbi Shimon to be a sign the Divine Presence is nearby
] Who will go out? [See Isa. 6.1-10 - there are several moments that echo the summons of Isaiah
] His son R. Elazar said: If I am burned, I shall not really be burned, for the Shekhinah is outside of us. Let the Shekhinah come inside and there will be a complete flame. [Bring the Shekhinah "in", uniting it with the Word, i.e., fulfilling the verse under discussion, a mimetic act of ending the estrangement of Israel from its God
He then heard a voice that said: The pillars have not yet been supported, and the gated have not been completed. R. Elazar did not go out.
R. Hiyya sat down. He wept and groaned. He opened and said: “Set out my beloved swift as a gazelle or a young stag, to the hill of spices…” (SoS 2:17) [He offers a complimentary verse to Rabbi Shimon's, echoing his longing to unite the separated lovers - God and Israel - and signifying that he is spiritually fit to enter into the company of the enlightened circle of mystics
The gates of the curtain opened but R. Hiyya did not go inside. R. Shimon lifted his eyes
and said: Learn from this that permission has been given to the one who is outside while we are inside. R. Shimon arose and fire went from his place to the place of R. Hiyya [The fire of Torah uniting with the water (tears) of Divine Presence, reconciling the duality
]….Once he entered inside he lowered his eyes and did not left up his head. R. Shimon said to R. Elazar his son: Arise and pass your hand over his mouth [Look again at Isa. 6.1-6
]…R. Hiyya then opened his mouth and said: My eye has seen what I have not seen before, something I’ve never contemplated has been shown to me. It is good to die in the good glowing fire of gold! [to experience unio mystica, or as the Hasids put it, bittul ha-nefesh
] (Zohar 2:14a)
Notice that Shimon never repudiates his earlier claim that it was the Shekhinah outside weeping - Rabbi Hiyya's tears transfigured him into something divine! In fact, elsewhere in Zohar, enlightened individuals are also called "Shekhinah."
Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0...
About the Author
Geoff Dennis is rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami and teaches Kabbalah and Rabbinic Literature in the Jewish Studies Program at the University of North Texas. He is the author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, a Runner Up for the 2007 National Book Award, and recipient of an Honorable Mention for the 2007 Jewish Library Council Book Award. He has written numerous articles. The most recent, "The Bride of God: Jewish Erotic Theology," appears in the anthology Jews and Sex, edited by Nathan Abrams (2008).