The Sea of Tears
I heard this story first from R'Shiloni who teaches at Yeshivat HaKotel
in the old city of Jerusalem
. I've since heard a recording of the story as told over by R'Shlomo Carlebach
Rebbe Yitzhak, better known as the Vorker Rebbe, believed foremost in looking out for the well-being of all people. Meanwhile The Kotsker Rebbe was most concerned with the truth and sought it out at the expense of all else. Though their paths were different, they were the closest of friends. So much so that even death wouldn't keep them apart.
The great Hasidic Rebbes were very special people. This world wasn't the only world they lived in. One of the later Lubavitch Rebbes was imprisoned once and the guards were flustered because they couldn't break his spirit. One of the Guards threatened him with his pistol, taunting him that it had sent many a person from this world. The Rebbe replied, "To one who believes in many gods and only one World this might be frightening, but to one who has two worlds and one God, this has no effect." The Rebbe was illustrating a major point of Jewish belief. This world is but the lesser of two worlds, and the great Hasidic Rebbes travelled frequently between the two.
So, when the Vorker Rebbe passed away, a full month went by and his son, Reb Mendele, hadn't heard from his father at all and he was growing concerned. So, he went to visit his father's closest friend, The Kotsker Rebbe. And the Kotsker told him that he had been concerned as well, so he had ascended to the upper world to look for him. He searched him out through all the palaces of Torah study. Rashi's palace, Moshe Rabeinu's palace, Rambam's palace and so on. At every place he stopped they told him that his beloved friend, the Vorker, had been there and he had gone.
In growing despair he asked the angels, "Where is my dear friend Rebbe Yitzchak?" And the angels sent him in the direction of a dark dark forest. It was the most fearsome and foreboding forest he had ever been to, but he pushed on concerned for his friend. As he travelled deeper into the forest he started to hear the most awful sound of crying. He reached the edge of the forest and before him lay a great sea that was wailing to the heavens. Every wave as it swelled high would cry out. And there by the edge of the sea was his holy friend Rebbe Yitzchak.
"I've been looking for you, why have you not come back to visit me?" Rebbe Yitzchak asked him a question instead of answering, "Do you know what this sea is?" The Kotsker replied that he did not, and so Rebbe Yitchak explained, "It is the sea of all the tears of God's holy people," he said, "and when I saw it I swore in God's name that I wouldn't leave its side until he dried up these tears."
Reb Shlomo, in his recorded telling of the story, says it is a lesson for all of us, when we see someone crying, don't tell them to stop. Simply keep them company, stay there, until God dries up those tears.
The short interlude story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe comes from R'Steinzaltz's commentary on the Tanya, end of chapter 11. Or at least that is where I came across it.