Elazar said: "From the day the Temple was destroyed, the gates of
prayer have been closed, as it says, "And when I shout and plead,
He shuts out my prayer" (Lamentations 3:8). But even though the
gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are opened, as it
says, "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my appeal; do not disregard
my tears" (Psalms 39:13). (Babylonian Talmud 32b)
there was a great drought, and the rabbi called all the people of the
city to the synagogue. They prayed day and night, but still no rain fell.
Then the rabbi declared a fast, and asked God to answer their prayers.
A voice came from heaven, saying, "God will send rain only if Rahamim,[*]
who always sits in the corner of the synagogue, prays for it."
The rabbi called the shamash [sexton] and told him to bring Rahamim
to the synagogue.
"What do you want from him?" asked the astonished shamash.
"He must come up to the bimah (reader's platform) and pray for
rain," answered the rabbi.
"But he's an ignoramus," protested the shamash.
"Call him," ordered the rabbi.
When the shamash brought Rahamim back to the synagogue, Rahamim
asked the rabbi, "What do you want from me?"
"Go to the bimah and pray for rain," said the rabbi.
"But I do not know how to pray," said Rahamim. "There are so many others
who know more than I."
"Nevertheless," said the rabbi, "it is you who must pray."
The next day the rabbi
called all the people together to pray. The synagogue was filled to bursting.
All eyes were on the bimah, where everyone expected to see the
rabbi leading them in prayer. How great was their amazement to see poor
Rahamim standing up there before the Holy Ark.
began the service, Rahamim said, "Please wait a few minutes. There is something
I must get." He ran out of the synagogue and returned a few moments later, carrying
a clay jar with two spouts. "Now I ask that you pray with all your heart," he
told the congregation.
So they opened the Ark and the people poured out their hearts to heaven,
wailing bitterly and beating their breasts. Then Rahamim lifted up his
jar, first placing the one spout to his eye and then the other to his
ear. Instantly there was a rumble of thunder and then the sky opened up,
drenching the earth with rain.
The rabbi asked Rahamim, "Why did you bring that jar here? What did you
do with it?"
"Rabbi, I'm only a poor man," Rahamim replied. "What I earn as a cobbler
barely feeds my many children. Every day they cry for bread and I have
none to give them. When I hear their cries my heart breaks, and I too
cry. I collect my tears in this jar. I have asked my wife to bury the
jar with me when I die. When you asked me to come here to pray, I looked
into the jar and said, 'Master of the Universe, if you do not send rain,
I will break this jar in front of all these people.' Then I listened in
the other spout and heard a voice that said, 'Do not break it' and then
it began to rain.
The rabbi said, "How true the words of our sages: 'The gates of tears
are never closed.'"
This story seems to
echo a legend/tradition based on the verse in Psalms 56:9 ("Place my tears
in your waterskin"). According to this tradition, the tears shed by the
Jewish people during the destruction of the Temple and during the sorrowful
years of exile are gathered in a waterskin (or waterflask); when the waterskin
will be filled, redemption will take place.
Rahamin means Mercy in Hebrew. [Back]
Patai, Raphael. Gates to the Old City (Jason Aronson, 1988). Retold
in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, ed. Ellen Frankel
(Jason Aronson, 1989).