KolRabi, Rabi’s Voice – What Makes Us Cry?
Rebbi Yochanan b Zakkai wept when he realised his students were visiting him. He realised that he was about to transition from this world to the next.
His students, however, did not understand why he was weeping. They asked him, “Why are you crying?”
They thought, he is a righteous man, a man of perfection, a man who has devoted his life to HKBH, to His Torah and His people. Our master does not live for this temporary world, he has been teaching about the superficiality of this world, and that this world is but preparation for the world to come. Whatever could he be crying about?
So RYbZ explained, (Beracha 28b)
When R. Yochanan ben Zakai fell sick, his Talmidim visited him; when he saw them he began to cry.
Talmidim: You are the light of Yisrael, why are you crying?
R. Yochanan ben Zakai: I would cry (from fear) even if I had to come in front of a mortal king, in spite of his limitations:
He is here today and will die later;
if he gets angry at me, it is temporary;
if he imprisons me, it is temporary;
if he would kill me, it is not an eternal death;
I can appease him with words and bribe him with money.
All the more so I should cry, for I will soon come in front of HaShem Who has no limitations-
He lives eternally;
if He gets angry at me, it is permanent;
if He imprisons me, it is permanent;
if He would kill me, it is an eternal death;
I cannot appease Him with words nor bribe Him with money.
Also, there are two paths in front of me, one to Gan Eden and one to Gehinom — I do not know which I will go through
May it be His will that fear of Heaven should be upon you like fear of people.
Talmidim: Should it not be greater?!
R. Yochanan: If only it would be so great! When a person sins, he is concerned that no one see him.
It is unlikely that RYbZ was fearful of עבירת שבין אדם למקום
As Teshuvah is accepted even at ones closing moments.
It appears that RYbZ was crying because there were suspicions in his heart that he had not corrected עבירות שבין אדם לחבירו
Indeed, we the Yeshivisher Olam, are accustomed to approaching before Yom Kippur, those who we suspect we may have wronged and saying along the lines of, “I hope I’ve not offended you but in case I have I’d like to ask Mechilah.”
But as difficult as this is, it is not too threatening because we’re fairly sure that the response will be along the lines of, “there’s nothing to ask forgiveness for, מחול לך מחול לך מחול לך”
It seems that the only thing RYbZ feared was this; that he had approached those he suspected he may have hurt, he did ask their Mechilah, but felt that due to his great eminence, forgiveness had been given under duress, they didn’t really mean it.
Does this make sense to you?
Every day of our life, every hour every minute, is a Beracha from HKBH and an opportunity to do the right thing.
RYbZ knew this, but it seems he did not weep until he was jolted by his students’ visit, and realised that his opportunities for correcting were lost.
And these opportunities, and the suspicion that we’ve not employed them is what made RYbZ cry.