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The Greatest Pain in the World

By Tzvi Fishman
7/28/2011, 10:07 PM

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. 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 before Mincha. For people who find it difficult to recite the Tikun Hatzot supplications late at night when they are tired, 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 for Hasidim and mystics, but the practice is mentioned on the very first pages of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura. “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 L-rd’” (Lamentations, 2:19). Our Sages tell us that at this time, G-d says, “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 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 Queen to be sullied in the 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. Our Sages ordered the prayers to instruct us how we should feel in our outcast humiliation, exiles from our Land, dispersed amongst the goyim:

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim 137).

America is a foreign land. Canada is a foreign land. England is a foreign. 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 ignominious and ignoble situation.

How much agony and anguish we are to feel over the exile! We are to feel pain for the disgrace of the Shechinah. Pain for the disgrace of the Jews in exile in foreign lands. We read the verses that our Sages composed and we cry. Shattered by our fallen condition in exile, outcast from our Land, and with hearts burning in shame for G-d, who is mocked by the goyim who say, “These are G-d’s children and they are cast out of his Land,” as if G-d doesn’t have the power to keep his promise to Israel to safe keep them in their Land. So our Sages instruct us to pray for the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, so that the honor of G-d will be restored in the world and the terrible Chillul Hashem of galut be erased.

For make no mistake about it – the exile is the greatest desecration of G-d that there is.

It is not easy to feel this deep pain and shed real tears, day after day, when saying Tikun Hatzot. After all, the destruction of Jerusalem happened almost 2000 years ago, and for someone who lives in Israel, with the Kotel only a short ride away, and Jerusalem wondrously rebuilt, and with the ingathering of millions of exiles a present-day reality, and a thriving Jewish State once again sovereign in the Land, it is difficult to enter the mind set necessary to feel the pain of the Shechinah in exile.

So to help me feel the terrible loss and disgrace, I look at pictures. I look at pictures of Ishmaelites turning their butts toward the site of the Temple as they pray facing Mecca. I look at pictures of New York, and Toronto, and Miami Beach, and Paris, and London. I imagine the Jews there, my brothers and sisters, and I cry over their exile from Israel, over their captivity amongst the goyim, over their shame and disgrace.  “These are G-d’s children and they are cast out of his Land!” I cry bitter tears when I think about my fellow Jews in exile. I cry over their darkness and the tragedy that so many are oblivious to their abominable situation and to the terrible agony and shame of the Shechinah who has been cast into exile with them. When I look at the pictures of New York and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, London and Antwerp, I cry and pray with all my heart that G-d open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, so that they will yearn to return home to the palace, so that the Shechinah may find comfort once again with the King, and Rachel find solace in the return of her children to their borders.  

May the day come speedily, O Father, that you open our eyes and give us new hearts to feel our terrible shame and disgrace of our exile, that we return to our own Holy Land, wipe out all those who rise up against us, and rebuild Your Holy Dwelling Place that You destroyed because of our sins.

Amen.

[The laws of Tikun Hatzot, and the full text of both Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah, can be found at our jewishsexuality.com website.]     

Shabbat Shalom!