The gift of tears

By Debbi K. Levy

On the Shabbat morning of Oct. 7, the day-to-day lives of Jewish people stopped short in an immediate way. Our hearts sank first and then anger arose as we processed all that the news sources could learn and share in those first horrific hours.

Through stoic faces and in a kind of pain that quickly became a part of us, we leaned into the leadership role model of Moses as the Jewish Federations of North America, along with other sacred key organizations, rose up to be the kind of supporters Israel needed most. Solidarity gatherings drew us together to weave our strength and resources to assist our homeland in all the ways needed and this vital work is still in process as I write.

Speaking for myself, I feel as if I have added a part-time job to my life. Emergency meetings, the untangling of the beautiful threads of the community mission that was canceled out of necessity and the planning of the fast-paced trip to Washington, D.C., for our voices to be heard by our country in unison and in-person.

Please allow me to affirm what rightly rises to the top of my heart, the gratitude I feel for being safe and living here in the United States of America. I have no family in Israel who has been directly affected by the war. Yet each day when I awake since the beginning of the terror brought on by Hamas, I carry with me this very heavy burden of the pain my brothers and sisters are living through. I feel with certainty that my readers are feeling much the same. We are in community in a more sorrowful way than we could have imagined.

My 60th birthday fell on Nov. 22 of this year. Always a loving husband, Barry was eager to make it a special one. Our kids organized and queried me to find a meaningful birthday gift. I could not imagine celebrating in an expansive way with our siblings in Israel living through all that currently is. I did, however, enjoy some intimate time with dear friends, had warm and celebratory phone chats and smelled the blooms of a birthday bouquet. A few loving friends insisted we gather for a meal about a week after my birthday and I was comfortable and excited about the idea. I found myself looking forward to balancing our new challenges with laughter and ease, even if only for an evening.

In a booth where women were shoulder-to-shoulder, we played a game. Rose, Thorn, Bud. When it was your turn, you had to describe the rose in your life, the thorn and finally the bud (what is becoming for you). We drew closer deeply listening, being careful not to interrupt one another during a turn. We made space for whatever emerged during explanations. It felt deeply satisfying to learn what was foremost on the minds and in the hearts of these kind friends. When it was my turn, I began with the “rose,” of feeling gratitude for my own safe and privileged life, but then fell apart at the telling of my “thorn.” I didn’t recover well, went over my allotted time limit of five minutes, nose running, nonsensical words falling on top of each other and a spine bent over in grief for my posture. My mask of courage fell away and my companions simply held neutral, compassionate space while the flood of emotion played itself out. Although our world did not change one iota, I could quickly ascertain the relief of an emotional release in the safe container of companionship.

In gratitude for the ever-wise tractates of our Talmud and the relationships that invite us to show up as we are, I want to share some verses from Berakhot, which is known for discussing blessings in certain circumstances, and I am hopeful that it will be the kind of gift that my friends offered me, the opening to find release in the tears that the Divine created to release us from burdens that must find their way out of the body and heart, even if only for a short time.

Berakhot 32b:5: Yet, despite the fact that the gates of prayer were locked with the destruction of the Temple, the gates of tears were not locked and one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be…answered, as it is stated: “Hear my prayer, Lord, and give ear to my pleading, keep not silence at my tears.”… Since this prayer is a request that God should pay heed to the tears of one who is praying, he is certain that at least the gates of tears are not locked.

May each of us, during this unimaginable time in the history of our people and the state of Israel, find holiness in the releases and sanctity of the flow of our own tears. And may this kavannah bring us closer to the Holy One. Amen.

Kohenet Debbi K. Levy looks forward to your feedback and discussion at

Leave a Reply