Parashat Vayishlah- The Power of Our Tears
We read in Parashat Vayishlah that after Yaakob returned to the Land of Israel, G-d spoke to him, promising him that he would beget a large nation that would inherit the land. Yaakob responded by erecting a monument at that site, in Bet-El, and "he conducted a libation over it, and he poured oil over it" (35:14).
Rav Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1167) understood that this "Nesech" (libation) which Yaakob performed was not a religious ritual, but rather was done for cleanliness. Before pouring oil over the monument as an expression of gratitude to God, he first cleaned it with water or wine, and this is the "libation" mentioned in the verse.
Others, however, explain differently. Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel, based on the double expression "Va’yasech Aleha Nesech," which mentions both "Va’yasech" and "Nesech," explains that Yaakob conducted two libations – one with water, and another with wine. This foreshadowed the time when his descendants, Beneh Yisrael, would perform on Sukkot these two libations, pouring both wine and water over the altar in the Bet Ha’mikdash.
A much different, and especially meaningful, explanation of this "Nesech" is given by Rabbenu Yona (Spain, 1200-1263). He cites an enigmatic passage from the Midrash (Bereshit Rabba 78:16) which comments, "All those years which Yaakob spent in Bet-El, he did not refrain from pouring libations. Rabbi Hanan said: Anyone who knows how many libations our patriarch Yaakob poured in Bet-El knows how to calculate the waters of Tiberias [the Kinneret]." According to the Midrash, Yaakob conducted innumerable libations on this monument during his stay in Bet-El – like the number of drops of water in the Kinneret. How could this be possible?
Rabbenu Yona offers a remarkable, novel interpretation of the Midrash, suggesting that these "libations" were actually tears which Yaakob shed while praying. Crying during prayer is especially powerful, and the tears one sheds are warmly accepted by G-d. The Gemara (Baba Mesia 59a) teaches, "Although the gates of prayer are locked, the gates of tears are not locked." When we pray with emotion and passion, to the point where we shed tears, our prayers reach the heavens and have an effect. And thus when the Midrash speaks of Yaakob Abinu pouring water libations like the water in the Kinneret, it refers to his tears, which are precious like the libations on the altar.
We do not have a Bet Ha’mikdash, but we are nevertheless given the ability to, on some level, serve G-d as our ancestors did in the Bet Ha’mikdash, through sincere, heartfelt, emotional prayer. These prayers, which evoke tears – whether tears of fear, tears of sorrow, or tears of joy – are precious and powerful, and are considered as significant as the water poured on the altar before G-d in the Bet Ha’mikdash.