Midnight. The holiest time in our 24-hour cycle. At midnight King David rose to learn Torah and write psalms of devotion to his Creator. "I will rise up at midnight to give thanks to You for Your righteous judgments." (Psalms 119:62)
The Midnight Kollel at Rachel's Tomb was established to promote the nearly forgotten traditions connected with our beloved Matriarch Rachel, the recitation of "Tikun Chatzot" (the Midnight Prayer Service) and the night-time study of Torah.
The Rambam (R. Moses Maimon of 12th C. Spain) wrote in his Mishnah Torah about the importance of learning Torah at night. Learning Torah only in the daytime is incomplete. The desirable time to learn Torah is during the latter half of the night - from midnight onwards until the dawn.
It is only by way of a Kollel, a learning group, with the agreement of their families, that this labor of love can be revived.
The Tikun Chatzot (from midnight until dawn) is composed of two parts: Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah. Tikun Rachel is the recitation of certain prayers, mourning the exile of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) and the destruction of the Temple. Traditionally, it is recited while sitting on the floor.
Tikun Leah is the introduction to learning Torah after midnight. There was once a time when Tikun Chatzot was printed at the beginning of most large Jewish prayer books. Today this is the case only in prayer books of the Sephardic rite. It was deleted from Ashkenaz prayer books, and Jewish consciousness as well, due to the pressures and the suffering of our people in Exile.
Why is the Chatzot Prayer service given the names of the Matriarchs Rachel and Leah? The matriarchs attained such an exalted level of holiness that their very lives became the "vehicle" for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence. It was Rachel our Matriarch, who in her righteousness and selflessness, felt the shame of her sister Leah and gave her the secret signs that facilitated her marriage to Yaakov, our forefather.
It is the spirit of Rachel our Matriarch who feels and cries bitterly over the loss and assimilation of her children in exile (Jeremiah 31:11-16). The prophet Jeremiah comforts her - her tears and pain are not in vain. There is hope for the end when her children will return both physically and spiritually. So it is that Rachel or Matriarch is buried by the wayside in Bethlehem, as a support and comfort to her children in this most bitter and longest of all exiles.
Throughout our history it is to her Tomb that Jews have flocked day and night to pour out their hearts, their pain and their deepest secrets, and to be comforted by Rachel.
On a 24-hour cycle, midnight is the time that begins the process of the descent of the Shechinah through special prayers. Learning Torah at midnight sends down constant blessing to sustain creation as a whole.
Thus, Tikun Chatzot and night learning from the Tomb of Rachel has a special significance in Rachel's Tomb itself. The Kollel Chatzot is the only existing fixed nightly program at Rachel's Tomb, located in Bethlehem, where there is currently no Jewish community.
The Kollel Chatzot provides the only Jewish presence at the burial site of our beloved Matriarch throughout the night. The Kollel Chatzot recites prayers for Jews throughout the world in need of Divine Intervention. For further information, or to submit a name for prayers in Rachel's Tomb contact the Committee via the addresses below.
The Friends of Rachel's Tomb
Dale Baranowski, Director, P.O. Box 24, 9094200 Elazar, Israel
Rachel's Tomb: A Capsule History A Photographic Tour Of Rachel's Tomb
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