There are times when an item or experience that we want is, for various reasons, not available to us. There are moments when our yearning for something is not reflected back to us. And there are instances when our deep desire to connect with God doesn’t feel as if it is being reciprocated.
I mention all this in light of what we read in Chagigah 4b concerning the fact that whenever (i.e. not just the first time, but rather, each time) Rav Huna read the verse from which we derive that pilgrims should ascending to Jerusalem and appear (ראייה) before God for the שלוש רגלים (the three pilgrim festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) – and from which we also derive that those who are blind are exempt from this mitzvah of ראייה – he wept.
In many ways, the reason why Rav Huna wept requires little further explanation. Born around 150 years after the destruction of the Temple, and deeply pained by the fact that he was unable to fulfil the mitzvah of ראייה, Rav Huna wept while asking himself: “How can it be that a servant that [considers himself to be] so beloved that His Master looks forward to seeing him (מצפה לראותו) is then suddenly pushed away by his Master?”. As the verse from Yeshayahu 1:12 accompanying Rav Huna’s teaching seems to affirm, the sadness of Rav Huna was rooted in the Churban (i.e. the destruction of the Temple) and the feeling of distance between the Jewish people and God. In fact, it is significant that most of the other instances recorded in the Gemara which describe when Tana’im and Amoraim wept was also for this same reason of anguish for the spiritual state of the Jewish people. From here we learn the importance of feeling the pain, and – where appropriate – shedding tears, for the spiritual state of our people.
However, it is almost impossible to ignore the fact that immediately before informing us of Rav Huna’s reaction, we are reminded that those who are blind are exempt from the mitzvah of ראייה, and that this law is derived from the very same words that prompted Rav Huna to weep. And though Rav Huna was sighted, it is noteworthy that two of his students – Rav Sheshet and Rav Yosef bar Chiya – were blind.
As mentioned in my commentary to Chagigah 2a, by conceiving God as – in some way – being visible (through statements such as those found in Chagigah 2a and repeated in Chagigah 4b just before the passage concerning Rav Huna about God ‘seeing’), we limit those whom we obligate to see Him. Yet knowing this, and perhaps sensing how both Rav Sheshet and Rav Yosef bar Chiya may have felt ‘pushed away’ by their Master, Rav Huna wept. From here we learn the importance of feeling the pain, and – where appropriate – shedding tears, for the pain and anguish felt by others.
Admittedly, while tears communicate sadness and empathy, tears – at least on their own – rarely fix a situation. But especially when situations arise which cannot be easily overcome, tears speak to those in pain and let them know that they are not alone.