Thursday, July 06, 2006

Crying Without Tears


Psalm 6: Crying Without Tears


The Tachanun prayer

This psalm, keenly articulating the author's pain and anguish over his shortcomings, is well known since it is included in the daily prayers. It even has a special name - "Tachanun" - and is recited after the Amidah prayer.

When we say the Amidah, we become highly aware of our true spiritual goals and aspirations. With Tachanun, we return to reality, and come to terms with our flawed traits and failings. The roller-coaster dive from the uplifting heights of the Amidah to the disheartening depths of Tachanun can be heart-wrenching. "Be gracious to me, God, for I am wretched" [v.3]. We recite the prayer with the bent heads and covered faces, a physical expression of our acute embarrassment at our inadequacies.

"I am weary from my groans. I cause my bed to float every night; with my tears, I melt my couch. My eye is hardened from anger. It has aged because of my tormentors. Go away, all you evildoers! For God has heard the sound of my weeping." [6:7-9]


A vivid picture of despondency and bitterness. For many years, the Midrash teaches, King David's pillow had to be changed every night seven times, as they were drenched with his tears. But what about us, who recite this psalm each day with dry eyes?

Hardened Eyes

The crying described here comes from a pure heart and refined character. It reflects the genuine bitterness of an individual distraught over his negative tendencies.

But as long as evil takes a hold of a person, it grabs the heart and hardens it, not letting it cry. Even though the heart is aware of the soul's bitterness, our eyes are like stone, unable to let loose a single tear.

Therefore, the psalmist relates, "I am wearied with groaning." If only I could cry, he exclaimed, this would at least ease some of my inner pain. Yet I can only sigh and groan, without tears. If I could cry, I would soak my bed with tears. But "my eye is hardened" [v.8] (or perhaps, weakened) with hatred and self-revulsion. It has become stiff and toughened by my bad traits, the tormentors of my soul.

Before the Holy One, however, all secrets are revealed. God accepts the sound of my weeping, even though it is without tears. He knows that the absence of tears is not because I lack a sincere desire to improve and reject evil, but because evil tendencies have hardened my heart. Therefore, the psalmist pleads, "Go away, you forces of evil, for God has heard the sound of my crying." Even though you prevent me from shedding tears, "God has accepted my prayer" [v.10], since it flows from a pure heart.

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I pp. 302-304]

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