It’s Okay To Cry On Shabbos

I know I shouldn’t cry on Shabbat. I know I shouldn’t make these twenty-five hours about me, when I’ve been commanded to put my feelings aside for now, to yield my own angsty internal voices and vague abdominal tensions to the will of my Creator – don’t worry, be happy.

Besides, I cannot even explain what emotions in particular are pulling at my tear ducts relentlessly. I don’t know how I got to this rooftop.

I climbed the stairs, presumably. All the while willing myself to focus on my breathing, to visualize the cyclical movement of oxygen from my mouth to my lungs to my belly, and its release. All the while trying to recall my safety plan for when I forget how to remember myself. Sing a niggun, focus on physical sensations, drink water, recite rap lyrics, sit down. I still do not know how I got here.

But the last thing I remember was noise – tens of people of different ages, backgrounds, and varieties of body odor, banging on tables to competing songs, different segments of the room proceeding with their chosen tunes, unconcerned with any notion of harmony. I set my intention for this Shabbat in Tzfat as mindfulness of my ahavat yisrael, my love of Jewish people. There are a lot of weirdos here, some Tzfat natives and others who have made pilgrimage from the other mecca of Deadbeat Mystics™, Nachlaot. I sense my rising tides of cynicism and aspire to spend Shabbat being mindful of my judgments and searching for positive, connective points in even my anti-feminist, Trump-supporting, America-bashing neighbors (there are more than a few who qualify). Loving my fellow Jews is so much easier to do with my friends. For some reason, it’s really hard to love annoying people, or at least those I don’t already love.

I put in the effort, and I focus steadfastly on generating fierce compassion for the congregants I observe during services. I notice my judgments – about people’s tacky outfits, off-key singing voices, and mid-song chatter (as though I’m innocent on any of these counts). I dance with strangers, though I can barely muster the energy to pull myself off the wall on which I lean. I focus on spreading joy to others, and make a point of smiling at anyone within a few feet. I try to let this ahavat yisrael subsume my self-centered inclinations. It is exhausting. Have I exuded enough love in these ninety minutes to count for the whole Sabbath?

As we arrange the room to accommodate the crowd, chaos ensues and a precariously-placed open bottle of red wine spills all over the floor. I run to the kitchen and grab the first stack of paper towels I find, returning to the crime scene to gently pat away the puddle. But apparently these were not the “right” towels to which the host had been referring, and before I can apologize, this forty year-old man abandons his Buddha-aspiring chill demeanor, stomping his feet in a temper tantrum to rival a toddler’s, screaming “NO! NO! NO! NO!”. Someone later attributes this erratic raving to a presumed dose of acid, but in any event, I am winded from the boom of this sudden storm, even when the man returns to his earlier equanimity. And at a certain point, my senses are too saturated and overwhelmed, and I just can’t be there anymore. I can’t be here right now. I just can’t.

So that’s how I got here, to the roof, I guess. I’m trying with all my heart to breathe breathe breathe and don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry and then I notice you. You’re sitting on a wafer-thin mattress, accompanied by a golden retriever-is it yours?-and looking at the stars like there is nowhere else. By the time I see you in the periphery, my cheeks are dampened already, and as I see you see me, I mutter with the limited oxygen I can access, slicha slicha slicha, sorry sorry sorry. And you just look at me with kindness.

Before I know it, I’m crying in the way that stifles my speech, leaving me sputtering pathetically through rambling sentiments and sentences. I hear my wrinkled voice listing to you a litany of insults lobbed at myself, and you challenge me to question these harsh accusations. I know, I know. I don’t believe any of it really, but I can’t let the truth- that I am loved and worthy and entitled to my space and my feelings-sink the hell in.

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You tell me it’s okay to cry, but I say I’m a sinner for crying on Shabbat, suddenly devout in my self-beratement. You tell me it’s still okay, that I need to honor myself and my need for space. But what about honoring Shabbat? You are, you are being yourself and soaking up the menucha (rest) your soul craves. Don’t suffocate yourself, especially not on Shabbat.

But why can’t I just be present with everyone at the meal? You can be present here too, you teach me. You can choose to fully inhabit this space, you assure. We sit apart from each other, you’re still on your mattress and I am sitting on a chair, knees curled into my body, swathed in the fabric of my long dress. I worry I won’t stop crying, but I do. It slows to a trail of sniffles, and we are sitting, breathing together. We wish each other Shabbat Shalom. Each exhalation becomes a message of peace, yearning for it and bestowing it to each other and to the expanses beyond us.

I want to thank you for bringing me challah and a plastic cup of sweet wine,
for being in the right place at the right time.

We make kiddush together and I feel myself regaining strength. I tell you about how I am named after a woman who was known to go to strangers’ funerals to enjoy the catharsis of an intense cry. I feel the strength from her softness. You can be present here too. This is Shabbat too, you repeat with a friendly smile. I think I’m okay now, I tell you. I’ll come back if I need more space, and I thank you and return to the lively scene. Except now I am breathing. Now there is space for me.

There is graffiti on the wall outside my door, with the classic Rebbe Nachman smiling face, the one usually accompanied by exhortations to “smile, it’s all for the good”. But this one says זה לא פשוט להיות מבסוט, it’s not simple to be satisfied. I appreciate the nuance, especially given the brevity of the artistic medium. It reminds me, the way you did, Man on the Roof in Tzfat, that happiness is complicated, like most simple things. I thank you, for extending to me the ahavat chinam, “baseless” love I needed, and for teaching me the depths of Shabbat Shalom.

P.S- For anyone interested in a relevant Halakhic source about restricting/limiting tears on Shabbat:

Re’ma commenting on Shulkhan Arukh (OC 288:2):

“…וכן מי שיש לו עונג אם יבכה, כדי שילך הצער מלבו, מותר לבכות בשבת”
“…And so, for someone to whom it brings pleasure to cry, so that the worry will release from his heart, it is permitted to cry on Shabbat”.