Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 32.
When Abraham came from Mount Moriah, Samuel [Satan] was furious that he had failed to realize his lust to abort Abraham’s sacrifice. What did he do? He went off and told Sarah, “Ah Sarah, have you not heard what’s been happening in the world?” She replied, “no.” He said, Your old husband has taken the Boy Isaac and sacrificed him as a burnt offering, while the boy cried and wailed in his helplessness [lit., for he could not be saved]. Immediately, she began to cry and wail. She cried three sobs, corresponding to the three Teki’ah notes of the Shofar, and she wailed three times, corresponding to the Yevava, staccato notes of the Shofar. Then, she gave up the ghost and died. Abraham came and found her dead, as it is said, “Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.”
Avivah Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire
Essentially, the suggestion is that Isaac's death cries, expressing the unsaveability of the creature in the grip of overwhelming forces, are echoed mimetically by Sarah, also fast in an irremediable anguish, and that these are reenacted in our ritual to redemptive effect. "The Shofar blasts on the New Year are to transform Sarah's death into atonement, because the Teru'ah — the broken Shofar tone — is groaning and wailing."
...The more obvious notion that the Shofar, the ram's horn, evokes the substitution of the ram for Isaac at the moment of actual sacrifice thus takes on a more tragic and paradoxical casts. Isaac is saved, and the Shofar announces the possibility of redemption, of symbolic substitutions. But Sarah is not saved, and yet the cries of her — and his — despair are retained in liturgy and ritual, "as atonement" for her descendants...The groans and wails of the Shofar on Rosh Hashana express the core dimension of human life: "it would have been better for man never to have been created." But in the very heart of this burning recognition arises the affirmative flame of the "very good." When the angel negates negation, when he calls out, "Do not raise your hand against the boy", Isaac is restored to life. But, at the same time, his ashes remain on the altar; the total surrender of the burnt offering, leaving no residue of hope, no tissue of illusion, is not neutralized. This core knowledge of paradox — "Without contraries there is no progression" (Blake) — is Isaac's radical experience, bequeathed to his children. Happy are the people know the Ter'uah [note of the Shofar]; O Lord, they walk in the light of Your presence" (Psalms 89:16). To know the brokenness, to hollow resonance of the Shofar, is to sharpen one's hearing for the affirmations of faith.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Light of Repentance
The pain felt in the initial inspiration to penitence is due to the severance of the evil layers of the self, which cannot be mended as long as they are attached to and remain part of the person, and cause deterioration of the whole spirit. Through penitence they are severed from the basic essence of the self. Every severance causes pain, like the pain felt at the amputation of deteriorated organs for medical reasons. This is the most inward kind of pain, through which a person is liberated from the dark servitude to his sins and his lowly inclinations and their bitter aftereffects...
Every sin oppresses the heart because it disrupts the unity between the individual person and all existence. It can be healed through penitence, which is radiant with the light of the higher influence] of the ideal embodied in the uversal existence. Thereby it becomes possible for the harmony with all existene to become once again manifest in him; when he repents he finds healing. However, the basis of the anguish experienced is not merely the result of sin iteself. It is rather due to the basic nature of sin and the nature of the life process that has become disoriented from the order of existence, which is resplendent with divine light radiant in all being in unity and high purpose.
It is written, "Serve God with gladness, come before Him with song". No sadness may be shown. What if a person feels pain and aguish? He cannot rejoice in his heart, and must seek mercy from the supreme King in the midst of his troubles. Should he desist from praying, since he cannot do so without sadness? He cannot make his heart rejoice and enter in gladness. What can such a person do? We are taught that other gates may be opened or closed, but the gate of tears is never closed. Tears are only the result of sadness and anguish. Those who oversee the ways of prayer break down all locks and bars, and bring in these tears. That person's prayer is then admitted before the Holy King.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity
Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul with out a home. Weary, sobbing, the soul, after roaming through a world festered with aimlessness, falsehoods, and absurdities, seeks a moment in which to gather up its scattered life, in which to divest itself of enforced pretensions and camouflage, in which to simplify complexities, in which to call for help without being a coward. Such a home is prayer. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes. For the soul, home is where prayer is.
To pray is to overcome distance, to shatter screens, to render obliquities straight, to heal the break between God and the world. A dreadful oblivion prevails in the world. The world has forgotten what it means to be human. The gap is widening, the abyss is within the self. Though often I do not know how to pray, I can still say: Redeem me from the agony of not knowing what to strive for, from the agony of not knowing how my inner life is falling apart.
I pray because I refuse to despair, because extreme denials and defiance are refuted in the confrontation of my own presumption and the mystery all around me. I pray because I am unable to pray. And suddenly I am forced to do what I seem unable to do. Even callousness to the mystery is not immortal. There are moments when the clamor of all sirens dies, presumption is depleted, and even the bricks in the walls are waiting for a song. The door is closed, the key is lost. Yet the new sadness of my soul is about to open the door. Some souls are born with a scar, others endowed with anesthesia. Satisfaction with the world is base and the ultimate callousness. The remedy for absurdity is still to be revealed. The irreconcilable opposites which agonize human existence are the outcry, the prayer. Every one of us is a cantor; every one of us is called to intone a song, to put into prayer the anguish of all. We pray because the disproportion of human misery and human compassion is so enormous. We pray because our grasp of the depth of suffering is comparable to the scope of perception of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon. We pray because of the experience of the dreadful incompatibility o how we live and what we sense. Dark is the world to me, for all its cities and stars. If not for my faith that God in His silence still listen to a cry, who could stand such agony?
Parker Palmer, The Soul in Depression (On Being Podcast)
Going into my experience of depression, I thought of the spiritual life as sort of climbing a mountain until you got to this high, elevated point, where you could touch the hand of God or see a vision of wholeness and beauty. The spiritual life, at that time, had nothing to do, as far as I was concerned, with going into the valley of the shadow of death. Even though that phrase is right there at the heart of my own spiritual tradition, that wasn’t what it was about for me. So on one level, you think, “This is the least spiritual thing I’ve ever done.” And the soul is absent, God is absent, faith is absent; all of the faculties that I depended on before I went into depression were now utterly useless.And yet, as I worked my way through that darkness, I sometimes became aware that way back there in the woods, somewhere, was this sort of primitive piece of animal life — just some kind of existential reality, some kind of core of being, of my own being; I don’t know, maybe of the life force generally — and that was somehow holding out the hope of life to me. And so I now see the soul as that wild creature way back there in the woods that knows how to survive in very hard places, knows how to survive in places where the intellect doesn’t, where the feelings don’t, and where the will cannot...I understand that to move close to God is to move close to everything that human beings have ever experienced. And that, of course, includes a lot of suffering, as well as a lot of joy.