Crying is “quintessentially human”, says Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic. Many animals call out when they’re in distress; only we weep “for emotional reasons”. But there’s also something inherently contradictory about shedding tears: “it can accompany the most profound grief or the deepest joy”. It is perhaps no accident that the shortest verse in the Bible is just two words: “Jesus wept.” Coming after the death of Lazarus, the tears are seen as a sign of “God’s solidarity with humanity” – of experiencing “both our joys and our sorrows”.
Crying is often viewed as “an expression of wild emotion”, but in fact the reverse is true: tears are a “powerful tool to tame our feelings”. When we’re desperately sad, crying helps “bring us back to equilibrium”. It’s the same with tears of happiness – after all, “ongoing rapture would be exhausting”. Researchers aren’t sure how exactly crying keeps extreme emotions in check. Some think it’s because tears eliminate stress hormones such as cortisol; others that they “clear blood of certain toxins or unwanted chemicals”. Whatever the explanation, there’s clearly something in the Jewish proverb: “What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.”