Shir Ha-Ma'alot #1

Rav Aviner's Commentary on Birkat Ha-Mazon


Psalm Recited before Birkat Ha-Mazon on Weekdays
By the rivers of Babylon (Tehillim 137)

Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz, author of the book Sheni Luchot Ha-Brit (known as the "Shelah" after the first letter of each word of his book), wrote: "On weekdays, we are accustomed to recite ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ before the blessing after eating to recall the destruction of the Temple, and on Shabbat and holidays, when we do not recite Tachanun [a prayer recited daily after the Shemoneh Esrei and omitted on joyous days], we recite the Psalm (126), ‘When Hashem will return the captivity of Zion’" (Otzar Ha-Tefillot, 482). Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land, and the purpose of the Exile was to eradicate transgression and to end sin. It is a tragedy when Jews become accustomed to exile, and they feel comfortable there, as occurred in the exile of Spain before the expulsion, or in Germany until the Holocaust. It is a good sign for a person the more he feels uncomfortable in exile, as Maran (our revered master) Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook writes: "All the more difficult it is to suffer the air outside the Land, all the more one feels the impure spirit of an impure land - this is a sign of a greater internal absorption of the holiness of the Land of Israel" (Orot 11).

The Shelah quotes the Zohar: One who has pleasure at his table, and has pleasure from the foods, he should remember and worry about the holiness of the Holy Land and the Palace of the King which is destroyed; and on account of the sorrow which he experiences at his table along with the same joy and feasting which is there, The Holy One, Blessed be He, will consider it as if he built His House and built all of the ruins of the Temple, fortunate is his lot (Zohar, Terumah 157b). There is sorrow over nothingness. There is sorrow which is a malignant illness which does not leave its good part in the soul. And there is supreme sorrow, noble sorrow, sorrow of yearning for the holy, which gladdens God and man.