Rabbi 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)

Once 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.

Before he 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]
English: 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).



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