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Some people have a custom to arise at midnight and recite verses of mourining and repentance for the destruction of the temple. This is called Tikkun Chatzot.

I was browsing the version on my "Smart Siddur" app on my stupid smart-phone, and saw that it lists two "versions" - Tikkun Rachel and Tikkun Le'ah.

They seem similar with minor differences. Can someone explain what the differences are, which group of people use one version vs. the other, and why these versions have the names of these 2 specific matriarchs?

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They're two different sets of psalms, sad psalms in Tikkun Rachel, hopeful ones in Tikkun Leah. On regular days both are recited. On days when mourning is inappropriate, only Tikkun Leah is said.

The names Rachel and Leah are used in their Kabbalistic sense, in which they refer to partzufim (faces or manifestations of God).(*)

In the Kabbalists' understanding of the rhythm of time, two related processes happen at midnight: the partzuf Leah enters into a state of union with the partzuf Yaakov, and the partzuf Rachel descends below the lower limit of the world of Atzilut. (**)

The ritual of Tikkun Hatzot is a way of acknowledging and participating in these supernal processes. The process involving the partzuf Rachel has characteristics of exile and separation, and so psalms of sadness are appropriate.

(*) The Ramhal provides a list of the 12 partzufim, including Rachel and Leah, at the beginning of Klalim Shniyyim: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=51288&st=&pgnum=135. See the footnotes there for definitions.

(**) See, e.g, the introduction to Tikkun Hatzot in Siddur Hemdat Yisrael for a description of these two processes: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=53884&st=&pgnum=10

  • +1 - Great explanation. As stated in prev. comment, this a partial answer. I'm also curious hwy they are named Rachel and Le'ah, and how these names relate to your description (why Rachel is "sad" and Le'ah is less so.) – DanF Mar 31 '16 at 2:52
  • I'm not that familiar with Kabbala. If you find a link that focuses on just this aspect, please let me know. Thanks for your answer and help. – DanF Mar 31 '16 at 15:46
  • @DanF, I tried to fill in the kabbalistic information in the answer. – paquda Apr 1 '16 at 0:48
  • I've heard that during Shmitta only one is said over the other, but I forgot which, would you happen to know? – Yehoshua Apr 1 '16 at 1:30
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    @Yehoshua, I would guess that for people who make a distinction for the Shmittah year, they would say only Tikkun Leah. The only time Tikkun Rachel is said on its own is the night of Tish'ah be-Av. – paquda Apr 1 '16 at 13:04

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