Staying awake at night

May 6, 2016

Torah Thought

“Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai said: One who is awake at night or goes on the road by himself, and turns his heart to wasteful things, this person is taking his life in his hands.”
—Ethics of Our Fathers

The above text gives us an important practical lesson: If you are up at night or walking alone, don’t waste time. Turn to the Torah. Grow. Become better. Be a better Jew.

About 2,000 years ago, a young shepherd by the name of Akiva decided to devote his life to the study and teaching of Torah. Everyone but his wife thought that he was crazy, but he did it. The Talmud tells us that he had 24,000 followers, and that all of them died in a plague.

We mourn the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students at this time of year by not getting married and not listening to live music, but we also stop mourning on Lag B’omer, in part to celebrate the fact that Rabi Akiva picked himself up after losing all of his students and moved down South where he established new students at great peril to his life.

Thanks to Rabi Akiva, the unbroken chain of the Torah’s transmission remained intact.

Rabi Akiva lived at a very dark period in history and he was very alone. The Romans had outlawed Torah study and his students were wiped out in a plague. He had to go against the flow and he had very little support.

The Mishna that we opened with speaks of a person who is awake at night and a person who walks alone. A person who is awake at night is a person who wants to keep going when the whole world is standing still. A person who is awake at night is a person who wants to move forward even though he can’t be sure where his path is leading him.

The worst thing for that person to do is to forget about the Torah. If he or she forgets about the Torah, they really are in danger of getting lost. They really will be alone.

A Jew is never alone. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we need to remember that G-d is with us. Whether it is the middle of the night or in the middle of a personal struggle in our lives, we need to remember that we are never alone.

Remember to stay awake at night. Remember to keep on growing when the world is standing still. Remember that we are never truly walking alone, because G-d is with us in every step that we take and every decision that we make.

—Rabbi Sender Haber, B’nai Israel Congregation

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