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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Staying Awake at Night

By Rabbi Sender Haber

"Rebbe 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.”

The Mishna seems to be giving 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 two thousand years ago, a young shepherd by the name of Akiva decided to devote his life to Torah. Everyone but his wife thought that he was crazy, but he did it. The Talmud tells us that he had twenty four thousand followers, and that all of them died.

We mourn their death at this time of year by not getting married and not listening to 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 mentioned 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 forgets about the Torah he really is in danger of getting lost. He really will be alone.

A Jew is never alone. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you need to remember that Hashem is with you. It may be the middle of the night or in the middle of a personal struggle in your own life, you need to remember that you are never alone.

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

(I originally shared the following at Moshe Rothman’s Bar Mitzvah. It is based in part on a thought from Rav Michel Twerski Shlita of Milwaukee, although he did not recall it when I repeated it to him.)

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