Wednesday nights - Rav Benzion's Tanya shiur..........Please continue to daven for the good health of the Rebbe (Yechiel Michel ben Devorah Leah) and Rebbetzin (Feiga bas Sarah).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pirkei Avos 5771: Walking Alone At Night

One day last week, the Rebbe decided to give a short shiur between Mincha and Maariv. Here it is almost word for word:
רבי חנינא בן חכינאי אומר: הנעור בלילה, והמהלך בדרך יחידי, ומפנה לבו לבטלה, הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו

Rebbe Chanina ben Chachinai said: One who is awake at night and who goes on the road by himself, and he turns his heart to wasteful things, this person is taking his life in his hands.
Let's take a look at this al derech avoda, which means looking at a statement from the standpoint of what its implications would be if we were trying to read in the words of Chazal some advice above and beyond the practical, as though it were addressing our spiritual struggles.

Rebbe Akiva and his colleagues were sitting in Bnei Brak, speaking about the exodus from Egypt the entire night until their talmidim came to tell them that it was time to read the morning Shema.

"The entire night", according to some seforim, is not telling us so much when they were talking but rather what they were talking about. In other words, they were talking about "the entire night". They lived under Roman oppression, in a time in which there were restrictions against learning and teaching Torah and against the open performance of many mitzvos. It was a very dark period for Jews.

These sages gathered together to explain to their talmidim how even in the midst of the darkness there were opportunities to extricate themselves from the darkness and to find light. There were openings to escape what they perceived as great limitations to spirituality.

היו מספרים ביציאת מצרים, they were discussing going out of Egypt, כל אותו הלילה, that night, the night in which they were living. It was a time of darkness. They were talking about living in a way in which people felt restricted (Mitzrayim) and confined. And they continued to talk about it until they're talmidim we able to realize that even in the midst of Mitzrayim there were these great opportunities to reach for a very high of faith. At a certain point the talmidim were so convinced they said, "The time of the morning Shema has arrived. We see the light now. You've shown us that even in the darkness there is light and we are in a time when we can exclaim our faith even now."

Someone who is "awake at night" is someone who seeks to be awake to the darkness, the darkness inside or outside of him.

The problem arises, however, when he chooses to combat the darkness without consulting a teacher or guide. People who try to reinvent the wheel in the battle with evil are not particularly successful because they are usually shortsighted. They don't know evil in the same way tzadikim or veteran ovdei Hashem do.

This person, while he may mean well, is putting himself at great risk by trying to be a big hero when he really need not to walk alone. 

Or, one could say the mishnah is referring to one who is in a state of darkness, suffering, or overwhelming internal struggle, and believes that he is alone.

On many occasions, the Rebbe has told a story about a man who was arrested in Russia for practicing Yiddishkeit. For two years he was in solitary confinement in a cell where he there was no room to be able to sit or lie down. This man's daughter related that after the two years, when he came home, she asked him, "How did you do it? How did you remain sane when you were alone for twenty-four hours a day for all that time?"

And he looked at her incredulously and he said, "I was never alone. I always felt that the Ribono Shel Olam was with me. A Jew is never alone."

If someone is in a period of night in their lives, and they believe they are walking alone, that the Ribono Shel Olam isn't there, that they can't turn to Him, then he brought the torture and torment that he is suffering upon himself. There is no excuse for it. A Jew is never alone; we always have access to our Father.

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