As all readers of The Jewish Press surely know, we are in the “Three Weeks” period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day marking the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. During these three weeks, certain customs of mourning are observed to emphasize our great sorrow and loss. For instance, weddings are not conducted, and listening to happy music, dancing, and playing musical instruments are not allowed. There is one thing, though, that you could call a break, and that is the recital of Tikun Hatzot, the “Midnight Lamentation,” can now be said in the afternoon. For people who find it difficult to recite the Tikun Hatzot supplications late at night when they are overtired, this is a chance to recite this very powerful rectification with all of one’s concentration and feeling.
Many people think that Tikun Hatzot is something only for devout Hasidim and mystics, but the practice is mentioned on the very first pages of the halachic treatises, the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura, which state: “If one is able to rise at midnight and perform the midnight service, there is nothing more praiseworthy than this, as it says, ‘Rise, cry out, in the night at the beginning of the watches, pour out thy heart like water before the presence of the Lord’” (Lamentations, 2:19). Our Sages tell us that at this time, God cries out, “Woe to My children on account of whose iniquity I destroyed My House, burnt My Temple, and exiled My children amongst the nations” (Berachot 3A). It is the time when the Divine Presence (the Shechinah) weeps for having been cast into the exile with Israel. The holy Zohar compares this to a king who cast his whoring son out from the palace into exile and sent the queen )the Shechinah) along with him to guard him throughout his wanderings. How painful it is for the royal queen to be sullied in foreign impure lands where she must remain with her son until he returns to the palace. So at midnight, we sit on the floor (some don sack cloths), and cry out over the pain of the Shechinah in exile, over the disgraced and exiled Jews, over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. I try to recite Tikun Hatzot at least once or twice a week. Our Sages formulated the prayers to instruct us how we should feel in our ignominious exile from our Land, dispersed amongst the goyim. The Tikun Hatzot begins with the Psalm:
“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim 137).
Make no mistake, my friends. America is a foreign gentile land. Canada is a foreign gentile land. England is a foreign gentile land. A Jew in America and Canada and England and France and Australia and South Africa is supposed to feel the terrible pain and disgrace of his outcast and ignoble situation, living as a minority amongst the goyim in a foreign gentile land. If he doesn’t experience his life in exile in this manner, feeling the spiritual emptiness and the strangeness of his foreign surroundings, while always yearning to return home to Zion and Jerusalem, then something is wrong with his Judaism and his identity as a Jew.
How much agony and anguish we are to feel over the Diaspora! Our once proud Nation has been destroyed! We have been stripped of our own Jewish Nationhood (until the establishment of Medinat Yisrael) and scattered to foreign lands. Our Holy Temple lies in ruins! And we are to feel pain for the disgrace of our mother, the Shechinah, for dragging her down into exile in countries polluted with idol worship and Xmas decorations nearly three months of the year. We read the verses that our Sages composed and tears fill our eyes. Shattered by our fallen condition in exile, a despised minority in gentile lands, and with hearts burning in shame for God, who is mocked and desecrated by the goyim who say, “These are God’s children and they are cast out of his Land,” as if to say that God doesn’t have the power to keep His promise to watch over His People in their own Jewish Land. So our Sages instructed us to wake up from our comfortable beds in the middle of the night and recite Tikun Hatzot over the pain of the Shechinah and the destruction of Jerusalem, just as they instructed us to recite this same Psalm after every weekday meal:
“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion….
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
“If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem, withered be my right hand!
“May my tongue cleave to my palate, if ever I not think of you, if I ever not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”
We are to say this Psalm after enjoying our glatt kosher, triple-decker deli sandwiches with cole slaw, sour pickles, fries and a Fr. Brown’s Celery or Black Cherry soft drink, in order to remind us that Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are where we really belong, and where our true happiness lies.
How many of you recite this Psalm after eating? How many of you really set Jerusalem over your highest joy? If you do, why aren’t you here now?
The great Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, stated that the main devotion of a Jew is to get up every night for the Midnight Prayer:
“The exile has already lasted so long. God is only waiting for the moment to return to us and rebuild the Holy Temple. It could happen any time. Our task is to see that from our side we do nothing to obstruct the rebuilding of the Temple. On the contrary, we must make every effort to hasten it. This is why we should be careful to get up each night at midnight and mourn for the destruction of the Holy Temple. Perhaps in a previous incarnation we ourselves were responsible for something which brought about the destruction of the Temple. Even if not, it could still be that our sins in our present lifetime are holding up the rebuilding of the Temple, and this is as bad as if we had actually destroyed it. This is the reason why we must weep and mourn every night at midnight. When we do so, it is as if we were actually making a tremendous effort to rebuild the Holy Temple.”
The “Pele Yoetz” states:
“It is true that mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple is something that should be expressed in outward actions, especially during the Three Weeks, when one should put ashes on one’s head at the place where one lays tefillin, and sit by the doorway day and night to recite Tikun Hatzot. Still, the main thing is not the outward actions, but the feelings one has in one’s heart. One should feel brokenhearted, shed bitter tears, and sigh mournfully over the pain of Heaven.
“It may be true that today we have fallen to a very low level, and no one understands the full extent of what we are missing and what we have lost, what we have caused because of our sin, and what the exile of the Shechinah really means. Our very lack of understanding and sensitivity should fill us with anguish. Even so, each person is obligated to do what he can. One should imagine how he would feel if his mother was swathed and garbed in black, and was crying bitterly and shrieking, ‘The pain in my head! The pain in my arm! I brought up children, I raised them, and they rebelled against me!’ One should focus one’s mind and heart on similar bitter images and pour out one’s soul in a bitter cry, and then one may be worthy of seeing the consolation of Zion and the building of our Holy Temple in all of its glory.”
Truly, it is not easy to feel the pain of the exile and shed real tears every time one says Tikun Hatzot. After all, the destruction of Jerusalem happened almost 2000 years ago, and tragically, many Diaspora Jews are so used to the exile, they’ve long forgotten that there can be something totally different. And for the lucky Jews in Israel who have the unsurpassed blessing of living in Israel, with the Kotel only a short ride away, Jerusalem wondrously rebuilt, and a thriving Jewish State once again sovereign in the Land, it is often difficult to enter the proper mind set necessary to experience the terrible pain of the exile.
So to help me feel the anguish of the Shechinah who weeps over her scattered and exiled children, I look at pictures. Before reciting Tikun Hatzot, I sit on the floor and look at pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto and Miami Beach and Palm Springs and Lakewood and Monsey and Moscow. I imagine the Jews there, my brothers and sisters, and I cry over their exile from the Holy Land, over their captivity amongst the goyim, over the shame and disgrace of living in foreign gentile lands (and over the horrible fact that many of them don’t feel it!), and over the terrible plague of assimilation which is devouring the Jews in exile, and they remain there, blissfully denying that it could happen to their children or grandchildren as well. When I look at the pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, I pray with all my heart that God open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, living make-believe identities, as if they are Americans and Frenchmen and Australians and Germans, when they are really the descendents of Israelites displaced from their Homeland.
Alas! How foolish and shortsighted we are! For 2000 years, the gentiles made certain to remind us that we were in exile, and made sure that we felt the pain. But today, in the temporary lull, when the gentiles are still resting from the last wholesale slaughter of 6 million Jews, like a rapist who rises from his victim with his lust and violence temporarily spent, we have deceived ourselves into thinking that today in our wonderful exiles, it could never happen again, as if the Almighty has forgotten His vow to return us to Israel, with fury, if need be, dragging us back to Eretz Yisrael by our peyes – chas v’shalom.
May the day come speedily when The Blessed One Holy Be He opens our eyes and give us new hearts to feel the shame and disgrace of our exile in Brooklyn, Boston, Boca, and Beverly Hills. May the flights of Nefesh B’Nefesh begin to be full, day after day, and may this coming fast day and day of mourning turn into a feast of falafel, shwarma, and, yes, yes, even bagels and lox, Israel style, the holiest and most delicious bagels and lox in the world. Amen.
[The full text of Tikun Hatzot, with both Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah, can be found here]