Great Sorrow – Greater Joy

The Fellowship  |  January 15, 2019

A man and woman hugging outside with flowers behind them.

Streams of tears flow from my eyes
    because my people are destroyed. — Lamentations 3:48

We begin a new year of devotional teachings from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein with a focus on joy, simcha — the joy found in the grateful acceptance and celebration of each day God has given to us. Join us as we explore Rabbi Eckstein’s teachings on the joy found in connecting with God and with others.

We invite you to dig deeper into the Jewish roots of Christianity with Rabbi Eckstein’s monthly teaching series, Limmud. Check it out here.

Jeremiah had a heartbreaking task in life. He was the bearer of bad news, destined to warn his beloved people over and over again about the danger that was heading their way. He would cry and scream, and do everything he could to get the children of Israel to repent – all to no avail.

Prophets of doom are never very popular, and no one was more unpopular than Jeremiah. His writings were burned, he was accused of being a charlatan, and he was thrown into a dungeon to rot. Jeremiah didn’t have it easy, and we can understand when he confesses, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes . . . Jeremiah’s destiny was to watch the fulfillment of the horrible predictions that he tried so hard to prevent.

The Jewish sages ask a question: How was Jeremiah able to write the book of Lamentations, a book that we know to be written with the holy spirit of prophecy? Judaism maintains that prophecy comes upon a person who is full of joy. Clearly, while Jeremiah was writing Lamentations, he was anything but joyful!

The sages explain that there is a profound difference between Jeremiah’s sorrow and that of the typical person. Most unhappy people wallow in self-pity, focused solely on themselves and their problems. However, Jeremiah’s sadness was not about his own predicament. His sorrow stemmed from his deep love and concern for his tormented brethren.

Unlike most sad people, Jeremiah wasn’t worried about himself. In a true display of nobility, Jeremiah’s only concern was for the suffering of others. “Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed.” Jeremiah never cried for himself. He cried only for everyone else.

The spirit of prophecy rests upon people of greatness. Usually, people of outstanding character are joyful and content. However, there is an exception. While great people may joyfully accept whatever God may place in their lives, they can still be filled with sadness on behalf of everyone else. In this case, it’s not a reason to withhold prophecy from them. On the contrary, it can make them worthy of receiving it.

Great people usually have great problems. Small people worry about their own lives, but great people worry about the whole world! Mother Theresa had some really big concerns. Gandhi had some huge worries, too. And, so did Jeremiah. The thing is, when you worry about big world problems, all of your own difficulties seem rather insignificant. So take up someone else’s grievance. Be sad on behalf of someone else. You may just find that when you are sad because of the hardships in someone else’s life, you will find more joy in your own life.

Check out Rabbi Eckstein’s study on Abraham, the father of our faiths, Abraham, in his Limmud (“study” in Hebrew) teaching, “Abraham: The Patriarch of Loving-kindness.”