Monday, November 23, 2009

What Did You Do Last Night?

I regularly listen to a sports talk show on my iPod, which somehow turned into a discussion between the cast members about what they had done the previous evening. Among the four was:
1. Eating dinner and hanging out
2. Watching TV
3. Eating junk food and watching TV
4. Watching a lot of TV
Hearing this rather sad report, I thought to myself: "Wait a minute, what did I do last night?" Thankfully, I spent a nice chunk of time working on a Torah-related piece, so the evening wasn't totally blown. Obviously, family-related activities: putting the kids to sleep, helping them with homework, etc. are clearly worthwhile. But the question seems relevant: what do we do at night? Do we spend our evenings (or at least a part of them) doing something productive, or do we wile away our evenings on some show or another, surfing the web and endlessly updating our Facebook profiles until sleep overcomes us?
This question brought to mind a rather powerful quote from the Rambam about the importance of learning Torah at night. Rambam (Laws of the Study of Torah, 1:8) writes that there's a mitzvah to study Torah every day and every night.
כל איש מישראל, חייב בתלמוד תורה: בין עני בין עשיר, בין שלם בגופו בין בעל ייסורין, בין בחור בין שהיה זקן גדול שתשש כוחו, אפילו עני המחזר על הפתחים, ואפילו בעל אישה ובנים--חייב לקבוע לו זמן לתלמוד תורה ביום ובלילה, שנאמר "והגית בו יומם ולילה"
Every man from Israel is obligated to study Talmud: whether rich or poor, of whole body of one who suffers afflictions, whether a young man or an elders whose energy has waned, even a poor beggar who knocks on doors, and even the husband of a woman with you children - he must dedicate time for the study of Torah during the day and night, as it is written, (Joshua 1:8) "you shalt meditate therein day and night
But then, later on in Chapter 3, (13) Rambam expands on this idea of learning at night rather sharply.
אף על פי שמצוה ללמוד ביום ובלילה, אין אדם למד רוב חכמתו אלא בלילה; לפיכך מי שרצה לזכות בכתר התורה, ייזהר בכל לילותיו, ולא יאבד אפילו אחת מהן בשינה ואכילה ושתייה ושיחה וכיוצא בהן, אלא בתלמוד תורה ודברי חכמה. אמרו חכמים, אין גורנה של תורה אלא לילה, שנאמר "קומי רוני בלילה" (איכה ב,יט). וכל העוסק בתורה בלילה, חוט של חסד נמשך עליו ביום, שנאמר "יומם, יצווה ה' חסדו, ובלילה, שירו עימי--תפילה, לאל חיי" (תהילים מב,ט). וכל בית שאין דברי תורה נשמעין בו בלילה, אש אוכלתו.
Although there is a commandment to study during both the day and night, a person can only study the majority of his wisdom at night; Therefore, anyone who wishes to merit the crown of Torah, should be careful with all of his nights, and not lose even one of them sleeping and eating and drinking and talking and engaged in similar activities, but instead in the study of the words of Torah and wisdom.Said the Sages, the "storehouse of wisdom" is only at night, as it is written, "Arise, cry out in the night". (Lamentations 2,19) And anyone who immerses himself in Torah at night, a thread of grace is extended to him during the day, as it is written, "By day the LORD will command His lovingkindness, and in the night His song shall be with me, even a prayer unto the God of my life" (Psalm 42,9). And any home from which Torah is not heard from it at night - a fire consumes it.
Ouch. While I might feel a little good about what I did last night, it only makes me wonder: what did I do the night before that? And before that?
And how will I spend my evening tonight?