Legend of the Thirty Six
Rav said, “All the ends have passed, and the matter . . . depends only on transformation [teshuvah] and good deeds.”
But Shmuel says, “It is enough for the mourner to stand in his mourning.”
— Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b
“I called my project ‘the legend of the hidden Thirty Six,’ ” Todd said, “was it necessary that the 36 be hidden — to redeem the world?”
A young woman with black leather boots emitted a low groan, heard from one end of the room to the other, a deep sigh of sadness, “where could we find such people today?”
There was an old man who came in from the rain with disheveled hair and holding a cup of coffee, he said softly, “they are present in every generation. Present but secret. The difference is then they were manifest, now they are hidden.”
I felt the sadness and the optimism in the arguments of Rav and Shmuel, the necessity for the tears to somehow wash the world clean — not to change it in the common ways — simply to weep the world well, to cleanse it with our tears. A sad redemption, but a redemption. I felt it in my fingers and my fingers played it on my lute. I tried to explain it, but I played it better. I cleansed myself with the music and many times since, with my tears, I wept myself well.
I don’t know how the world is to be saved, unless it is to repair it with tears. To weep the world well.
I recalled the artist I met in Italy and the stories that he occasionally told, especially the tender ones. I recalled the softness, the weeping in his eyes when he told them.
I was talking with J. on Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat of teshuvah transformation between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He was telling me about a friend of his son who had died in a car accident. “I was in New Jersey with a big big client,” J. said. “I live for this stuff, but I didn’t want to be there.”
“You don’t live for this stuff,” I said, “not for this, not for that, but for everything that issues from the mouth of G*d.”
“My head hurts,” J. said.
“You’re saving the world,” I said, “you’re saving the world with your tears.”
Again, it was the weeping that drew me to these stories. When I returned home, one day while playing music with one of my friends, I began to weep, quietly and inwardly. I had learned how to cry in such a way that no one noticed.
The world would not be saved in the common, obvious ways; it may not be saved even by the righteous, there may be too few of them, nor by sincere acts of repentance.
It would be saved only by our tears.