By the rivers of Brooklyn

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...

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Tzvi Fishman

Judaism Largest French aliyah in history
Largest French aliyah in history
INN: TF

We are now 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. During this period, 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 say this very important prayer 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 basic 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, G-d 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, along with the Jewish People, in impure foreign lands. 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, and over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. 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. Our Sages instruct us that a Jew in the Diaspora is supposed to feel pain and disgrace in being an outcast, living 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 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 having dragged her down with us into countries polluted with idol worship. We read the verses that our Sages composed and tears fill our eyes, our hearts burning in shame for G-d, who is mocked and desecrated by the gentiles 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!”

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.”

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 forgotten that there can be a complete Jewish life. And for the lucky Jews in Israel who have the unsurpassed privilege 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 experience the terrible pain of the exile, since G-d’s blessing surrounds us everywhere, as the rebuilding of our nation in Israel progresses each day.

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. 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 of living in foreign gentile lands, and over the sad fact that many of them don’t even feel that they are living in exile and disgrace. I cry over the terrible plague of assimilation which is devouring the Jews in exile, and still 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 G-d should open their eyes, and awaken them 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 like everyone else, when they are really the descendants 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 temporarily spent, we have deceived ourselves into thinking that today, in our wonderful exiles, it could never happen again.



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