Arise Before Dawn
By Dovid Friedman
Pitch darkness, the black of night, the entire universe slumbers and sleeps. Business men have retired for the night; factories are closed and the workers are sleeping. The Stores are bolted all is still and silent. In the distance one can hear the fain sound of a dog barking.
What normal person gets up at such an hour? Who would forgo those sweet hours of slumber? After all, tomorrow is another day, with plenty of work to be done!
But some have is a different reality!
The hour is midnight.
The sounds of footsteps are heard. A young married Torah scholar, carrying his tallis and Tefilin, rushes through the darkened streets and enters the Beis Medrash.
The scene repeats itself from every side. To your left is an older, middle-aged man heading in the same direction. By the damp peyos framing his face it's obvious that despite the early hour he has already immersed in the mikveh.
As you enter the Beis Medrash, you stand still in amazement: It is as full of life and activity as a yeshiva in the height of the day. Dozens of Torah scholars are totally absorbed in learning Torah, some alone, some in pairs.
Looking closer, you realize that the man sitting next to you is shedding tears as he prays. When he finishes reciting Tikkun Chatzos, he quickly gets up and within moments returns with two volumes of Gemara, one for himself and one for his chavrusa. Within minutes they are totally involved in the intricacies of the material they are learning. At the next bench is a different pair. It's obvious that they were totally absorbed in their study long before you arrived.
"It is a great privilege to take part in the Torah learning of these Torah scholars who push sleep away from their eyes. It will be an eternal merit for you and your family. There is nothing that draws down Heavenly mercy more than toiling in the holy Torah during these hours."
HaRav Ya'akov Meir Schechter, shlita
Rosh Mesivta of the Yeshiva of Mekubalim
Click here to view the Tikkun Chatzos.
What is going on here? Why are so many talented Torah scholars attracted to this Beis Medrash? Why do they gather at such an unusual hour?
Many of our holy books talk about the importance of learning at chatzos. Following, we will clarify the concept and explain the reasons for such a lofty practice.
The Shulchan Aruch begins with the words, "Strengthen yourself like a lion to arise in the morning to serve your Creator; he should wake up the dawn…" (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim a). But what is the Shulchan Aruch referring to? The Shulchan Aruch, which determines the halacha, writes that a person must (as much as he possibly can) arise early, before dawn, while it is still night, to pray (to serve his Creator refers to prayer). While emphasizing the importance of rising early, the Shulchan Aruch also recognizes the difficulty involved in doing that, and therefore writes, "strengthen yourself like a lion…"
To understand the simple meaning: Two different types of soldiers serve in the king's army: one group barely fulfills their duties. Although they cannot be accused of disobeying orders, it's obvious that their heart is not in it and that they'd rather be doing something else. The second group fulfills their tasks with tremendous alacrity, joyfully following the king's orders. It's obvious from their behavior that they truly desire to serve the king.
The same hold true with divine service. Our real inner self, our deepest soul, desires to serve the King of kings, but our yetzer get in our way. Therefore we must try to perceive our true desire, which pines for the moment we can begin serving our Creator. That moment is dawn, when we are able to fortify ourselves like a lion to serve our Father in heaven (Tur Aruch Chaim a, and commentators).
An additional explanation according to the holy sefer, Likutey Halachos:
Hashem created the world with an organized sequence to time. In the morning the light illuminates the world and the world awakens to life. Then as the sun slowly comes out and lights up the entire universe, people wake up refreshed and full of vitality to begin their day. They devote their mornings to fulfilling their responsibilities. In the evening, when the light becomes dim as the sun begins to set, people return home tired after a full day of work. By the time it's night, it's time to go to sleep. People's energy is waning and they need to get some rest. The following morning the world is once again filled with light. This cycle - the cycle of life - repeats itself daily. Yet, although it appears to be the same, Hashem is really renewing the world each time anew. "For as long as days exist, days and nights will not cease."
Just as the world awakens with the sun, we have within our souls times that can be compared to night and times that can be compared to day; times of light and times of darkness. When the spiritual side gains the upper hand, it is a time of light. We feel wonderful; our emuna is crystal-clear. We don't fall into the dark abyss of depression and sadness. And if, during this time of spiritual light, Hashem illuminates us materially, sending us a good livelihood and other such things, how wonderful! This is the song of life, a wondrous melody that flows when everything is the way we would want it to be. It is compared to morning, when the day is getting brighter. And of course we want this wonderful era - a time of joy, happiness and contentment -- to continue indefinitely.
But there are also other times in our lives. We all have times when our emotions are precarious and our emuna weak. During those times our emuna is not integrated into our hearts, so our emotions are dark and lacking strength. Then, even the smallest difficulty seems insurmountable and unmanageable. Confused and incapable of coping with our problems, we fall into the pit of grievances and bitterness. Our hearts become as cold and hard as the thickest darkness of night.
On a certain level this cycle repeats itself daily. When the day is born, it carries on its wings hope for a new beginning -- perhaps this day will be better than yesterday, a day of accomplishment and success. On the other hand, with the fall of darkness, hope and joy diminish and leave behind a certain weakness. Man is a microcosm of the world, and therefore whatever the Creator created in word exists within Man.
When we daven Shacharis and recite the verses in which we thank Hashem for all the goodness He has bestowed upon us, we are strengthening our emuna in the greatness of the Creator. Afterwards, we ask the All-Powerful-One for all of our needs down to every personal detail. These prayers were composed by Avraham Avinu at sunrise, at the exact moment that man's hope is renewed, because that is the most opportune time to pray, to request and to praise the Almighty.
If we truly desire a change, that things be different, that we have new hope, we should prepare ourselves for prayer in a way that we can internalize the chessed of the world's renewal. Through integrating it into our hearts, that wondrous feeling of joy and renewal will continue throughout the entire day, and even for several days! The more we prepare to daven through waiting to greet dawn - the light of day that draws joy into this world -- the more our emuna will grow and be strengthened. Those predawn hours are the most opportune time for us to connect to our inner spirituality and to the Creator of the world.
From this we can understand that arising before sunrise to prepare ourselves to daven strengthens our emuna and our connection to Hashem. During those predawn hours we discover hidden strengths and the power of renewal, "In His goodness He renews the action of Creation every single day."
The path to perfecting our emuna and to strengthen and deepen our spirituality is davka through getting up at chatzos and reciting Tikkun Chatzos, as well be explained in the following chapters.
I will arise to give thanks for Your righteous judgment
Abundant lovingkindness, rousing man from his slumber, awakening him from his sleep
Take pity, have mercy on me that I merit to awaken from my sleep
Precisely at Chatzos,
All the days of my life
And in your great mercy and great lovingkindness
Arouse the "Northern Wind"
That blows through King David's harp at midnight
And may it continue on to me, to revive me, to awaken me from my sleep
Precisely at Chatzos
"Awaken, my honor; awaken [me], lyre and harp; I will awaken the dawn" (Tehillim 57:9).
With these poignant words, this heartfelt supplication, Reb Noson (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's prime disciple) begins his emotional prayer in Likutey Tefillos for awakening for Chatzos.
Chatzos - there is impossible to comprehend its value. From the beginning of time, chatzos has always been viewed as a unique moment for both the Jewish nation in general and each Jew individually. Avraham Avinu triumphed over the kings at midnight. When Hashem redeemed His nation from Mitzrayim, we became the Chosen Nation, as is it written, "So said Hashem, My firstborn son is Israel" (Shemos 4:22). The miracles of our leaving Mitzrayim began at midnight when Hashem destroyed the Egyptian firstborn, as it is written, "So said Hashem, 'At midnight I will go out into the midst of Mitzrayim'" (Shemos 11:4). Dovid Hamelech rose from his slumber precisely at chatzos, as Chazal explain on the verse "At midnight, I rise to give thanks to You for Your just judgments" (Tehillim 119:62).
In the holy Zohar, the ARI Hakodesh writes at great length about the importance of reciting Tikkun Chatzos and of learning Torah at chatzos. Throughout the generations, great rabbis, Chassidic rebbes, talmidei chachamim as well as simple baalei batim valued this form of divine service and would make the effort to get up in the middle of the night to recite Tikkun Chatzos and learn Torah.
The uniqueness of Chatzos
All the holy books refer to chatzos as an eis ratzon, a auspicious time. At that hour the gates of Heaven are open, and Hashem Himself heeds our prayers.
How can a moment in time be an eis ratzon? On a mundane level, when a person asks for a favor he tries to ask at an appropriate time. So if, for example, you're asking for a bank loan, you'll make sure to approach the bank manager during his office hours and if possible, you'll arrange to go when you know he's in a good mood, because that's when he's more likely to be agreeable.
At chatzos, the gates of Heaven are flung open and Hakadosh Baruch Hu so to speak comes down to Gan Eden to see what is happening in This World (Zohar Vayikra). At that hour the powers of evil, strict judgment and darkness that govern the night are revoked. Impurity disappears, and Hashem in all His Glory is revealed. It's an eis ratzon, a time to awaken and request Hashem's mercy. We should take advantage of that hour, because it's an auspicious hour; an eis ratzon!
More important than requesting yeshuos in material matters is to ask for Hashem's help in spiritual matters; we should ask Him to forgive our sins, to help us grow in our emuna, to grow in Torah, to attain true fear of Heaven, attain holiness etc. Chatzos is the time to turn to Him in heartfelt pray for all the things that are hidden within the recesses of our hearts, our deepest desires, our soul's strivings, our yearning to elevate ourselves and accomplish spiritually. Chazal say that we should take advantage of an eis ratzon to pray at great length. And what eis ratzon is Chazal referring to? Chatzos, when our yetzer hara is at its weakest and we are closest to the Almighty.
"It is proper for every G-d fearing person to be aggravated and worried about the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash" Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 1:3).
In its glory, the Beis Hamikdash was the one place on earth where the Shechina was revealed. It was where the eyes of Yisrael were illuminated, where we were always connected to Hashem with forgiveness of our sins, with korbonos, with an abundance that came down from Shemayim in His merit, with a feeling of taharah; in the Beis Hamikdash we had the Sanhedrin to eradicate all confusion and uncertainty. It was the pinnacle of all goodness and hope -- but it was destroyed.
With its destruction, the light of our life ceased to exist; the joy of kedushah that lived within our hearts turned into the profanity of mourning. As we wander from one exile to the next, we become more distant from that source of spiritual and material goodness. We have become wanderers, confused and disorientated.
It is only right that those whose hearts have been touched by Hashem and who truly desire to draw closer to their Father in Heaven, should plead that the Shechina be revealed and that the Beis Hamikdash be rebuilt.
In the middle of the night, when darkness begins to recede, when it's possible to feel the hope and the consolation of the following day; when the world is fresh and pure -- that's the most appropriate time to mourn the Churban. And while we are lamenting our loss, we must continue to have hope and truly believe that Hashem will hear our prayers, our Tikkun Chatzos.
During these hours, Hashem Himself, in his great desire to bring us close to Him and rebuild His sanctuary, is also mourning. "The night is divided into three shifts. Hakadosh Baruch Hu sits and roars like a lion, 'Oy to Me that I destroyed My sanctuary and exiled My son…'"(Brachos 3). What better time to turn to Hashem than when He Himself is in pain over the Destruction, may the Exile come to an end and we be redeemed quickly.
Click here to view the Tikkun Chatzos.
Personal Tikkun Chatzos
"Come close to my soul, redeem it…" (Tehillim 69:19). Yes, we are yearning for the national geula, the redemption, when the Jewish nation will no longer suffer. But we also desire a personal redemption, when our soul will be redeemed from the evil influence of the yetzer and will be fully able to follow its true desire, to obey Hashem.
We desire purity. We strive to be scrupulously honest. We want our will to be one with Hashem's and to thus merit a life of true joy. But there are so many obstacles that drag us away from our true intentions: our indulgences, our illicit thoughts, our anger; all nothing more than the suggestions of that foolish old king, the yetzer hara.
As holy Jews, we are compared to the Beis Hamikdash. Our soul and our pure intellect whose sole desire is to fulfill Hashem's Will are compared to the Holy of Holies, the Kodesh Hakodshim within the Beis Hamikdash. Our hearts are compared to the Aron that contained the Luchos, and our mouths to the Shulchan and the Mizbeyach.
But although we are integrally holy, we are surrounded by enemies -- the obstacles that drag us away from our soul's true desire -- that try to confuse us. These obstacles are embodiments of Nebuchadnezzer, Titus, and all the other haters of Israel throughout the generations. "Greater is the sin of one who causes another to transgress than the one who kills." These obstacles to kedusha have but one desire -- to disconnect our souls from the source of its vitality and joy, the most difficult and bitter suffering possible.
Before the actual Churban, our enemies succeeded in enticing the Jewish Nation to sin, destroying the root of holiness. Once that root of holiness, the soul, was destroyed, the physical Churban was a given. When Titus destroyed the Beis Hamikdash, a Heavenly voice declared, "You have burnt a house that was already burnt." Since the bais Hamikdash had already been destroyed spiritually, Titus just burned a lifeless, physical shell.
During prayer, we should aspire to build our personal, spiritual Beis Hamikdash, "On my temple I will cry by day and by night" (from Tikkun Chatzos). Hashem harkens to such prayers, as Chazal explain, if it weren't for Hashem's continual assistant, we would constantly be overwhelmed by the yetzer.
Nothing can compare to prayer during those special hours between chatzos and morning. It's an eis ratzon, a time for drawing close to Hashem. It is up to us to take advantage of this special time to pray and await Hashem's lovingkindness. Every prayer has an impact, but prayers recited during that eis ratzon have a special impact. B'ezras Hashem may our prayers to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash - both our personal Beis Hamikdash and the Jewish Nation's Beis Hamikdash - be answered quickly, and in our day.