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The Tissue Box

A Life Lessons Story by Chana Klein

It was Tisha b’av, the time on the calendar that we lost our temples.

I entered the synagogue for the Tisha b’av service. I searched for the tissues so I could grab a few before they were all gone. After all, it was the ninth of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.  The tissue box was on the shtender (back of the bench) in front of me. I left some tissues so that others can have them also. I felt lucky that I got to them first. I am accustomed to seeing the women reaching for tissues during Yizkor, the prayer for the dead. So, I naturally expected even more tissues to be used during Eicha and Kinot in which we read about the destruction of the Temples, a time during which so many had horrible deaths.

I read the words of Eicha as they were being sung by the Baal Koreh (Torah reader). How wonderful the city of Jerusalem had been. How much we have lost. How devastating the experience of the destruction, where people killed their own princes, were starved to death, and were tortured. The most horrifying reading was that in which admirable, devoted mothers killed their own children, and as if that were not horrible enough, they ate them. We lost the Shechina, the presence of God, in our everyday life during that time.

I cried more with each line I read. The footnotes made the pictures even more graphic to me. I talked to God, silently, asking for His support in just reading this. It was so difficult. As I sat there in front of the tissue box, I held one of my crutches tightly in my palm to feel the support of something. It was so intense, and so sad.

I cried over the content that I was reading. Each additional description of the horror of that time brought more tears.

Then, I looked up and again, noticed the box of tissues on the shtender in front of me. Unmoved! No one had reached for a tissue. And there were other boxes of tissues that I noticed throughout the room, all untouched, all in the same position, with the same pop-up out-of-the-box shape as they had been before the service started.

I cried some more. But, now, I was crying because no one needed a tissue.

Where is our heart? How can we sit together and read this stuff and not cry, or even become teary enough to need a tissue? How can we read about the fires of the destruction of the Temples and not be moved to put them out with our tears?

So, now, I was crying, and still am, over the untouched, unmoved tissue box.

Jeremiah, the prophet, told us “If you had cried sincerely only once while in Zion, you would not have been in exile.”  The prophet pleaded with us over and over, for 40 years, telling us to cry. Had we cried, he told us, we would not have gone into exile.

May we not, as Jeremiah 3:44 states, wrap ourselves in a cloud that no prayer can pierce.

Tears are not only for Tisha b’av. They are for all year. Tears get through all of the gates of Heaven. God wants our sincere prayers. God wants your tears and mine.

May God continue to love us and help us to understand.

May we appreciate the value of our cries to Heaven and may God respond to our awe and to our pleas.

Copyright © Chana Klein 2010

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