13: Even though it is a *Mitzva* (commandment) to study during the day and at night, it is only at night that a person gains most of his wisdom. Therefore, anyone who wishes to earn the *Keter Torah* (crown of Torah – see previous posts) should be careful with all of his nights, not to waste evn one of them sleeping, eating, drinking, talking (idly) etc., rather in the study of Torah and words of wisdom.
The Rabbis said: The song of Torah is only [heard] at night, as it says: “Arise, sing out at night” (Eikha [Lamentations] 2:19). Whoever involves himself with Torah at night will have a strand of kindness extended over him during the day, as it says: “During the day, God ordains his kindness, and at night, His song is with me, a prayer to the living God”. (Tehillim [Psalms] 42:9)
Any house in which the words of Torah are not heard at night will be consumed by fire, as it says: “All the darkness is hidden away from His treasures; a fire that need not be blown will consume him.” (Iyyov [Job] 20:26) “He scorned the word of God” (Bamidbar [Numbers] 15:31) applies to someone who pays no attention to Torah at all. Similarly, anyone who has the opportunity to involve himself with Torah and does not involve himself, or who has studied Scripture and Oral Law and turned away to the foolishness of the world and left behind his study, is included in “scorners of the word of God.” The Rabbis said: Whoever who neglects the study of Torah while wealthy will eventually neglect it in poverty. Whoever maintains the Torah in poverty will ultimately maintain it while wealthy. This matter is explicit in the Torah – which says: “Because you did not serve the Lord, your God, with happinness and good feeling when there was an abundance of everything, you shall serve your enemies” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 28: 47-48) and it says: “So that you shall suffer…so that ultimately He will make you prosper.” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 8:16)
Q1: What is it about night study that is so valuable?
JB:Anachronistically speaking, no phone calls. Even if you can manage, like R images we all can, to work 3-5 hours a day and learn the rest, the rest of the world may still be working. At night, communities are quiet an the chance to study with no interruption makes it more valuable.
YE: Whether or not this point is dependent upon Jay’s – I don’t know. But, it seems that there is a different sense about nighttime that is more appropriate for reflection. Remember that R maintains that the ultimate form of Torah study is reflection/analysis/application – and the physical and mental repose which often comes at night is most conducive to that. Conversely, in R’s times (and until fairly recently) night activities were not common. People usually went to sleep at nightfall and arose sometime around or before dawn. For someone to study at night indicated a tremendous level of will-power.
Q2: How do we square R’s statement about “any house…consumed by fire” with reality? Is the fire metaphoric? Is this statement hyperbolic?
JB: We’ve seen earlier (re: cities w/ no schools being destroyed) that R can be dramatically hyperbolic in doomsday-type punishment. Here, Rashi on the Gemara in Sanhedrin, where this appears, claims it refers to the fires of Gehinom (Hell), hence making sense of the second half, which he translates there as “a fire that can not be extinguished”. I don’t think a pasuk from Iyov regarding evil people in general is going to be used as a literal punishment clause. Rather, it is a powerful image to indicate the severity. The quote from Bamidbar (it’s 15:31, not 16:31) is a stronger tie-in, as it refers to one who sins onpurpose, and gets karet – cut of from B’nei Yisrael.
Q3: Why does he compare the one who never paid attention to Torah with the one who studied and then left? Aren’t these two very different (negative) experiences?
JB: I think R is assuming throughout his works that he is addressing a community of people learned enough to realize what Torah study is. In other words, learning and stopping and not learning at all are both forms of shrugging of the responsibility. Important to note – R is not saying they are identical, only saying that both are examples of scorners.
YE: Yes, but the *V’khein* – (similarly) which connects the two does indicate some sort of parallel. I believe that it plays out as follows: Someone who has studied Torah has experienced the greatness of the search for wisdom and God’s word. To leave that – is like a fish leaving water (see R. Akiva’s parable, Berakhot 61b). See R’s comments on this in Laws of Murderers 7:1. The one who has experienced the greatness of Torah and then leaves it shares something with the one who never got involved – a general value system in which wisdom and God’s word take a back seat to other things.
-Q4: If this message (learning in poverty ->learning while wealthy and the inverse) is explicit in the Torah, why didn’t R quote that piece from the Torah first?
YE: R presents two ideas which are explicit in the Torah – the first is not the entire rich/poor issue; it is one half of it, that if you do not properly worship God when things are good (and the wealth is what gets in your way), then things will not remain good forever – and you will still not worship God. The second is simply – no pain, no gain.
Q5: Why does R end the chapter – and what seems to be the first section of the laws of Torah study – on this note?
JB: Since we’ve been discussing punishment an reward, it seems only fitting include a quote that sort of sums it up: Hey, it’s not easy, and you’ll work hard. But, as Israelis say, b’sofo shel hayom, at the end of the day, God will make it worth your while…
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.