The Nightly Crown of Torah
Rabbi Yochanan said, “These are Torah scholars, who immerse themselves in Torah study at night. The verse teaches that it is considered as if they were performing sacrificial service in the Beit Hamikdash.”
This statement on our daf appears to be an astounding manner of exposition by Rabbi Yochanan of the following verse in Tehillim (134:1): “A song of ascents. Behold, bless
However, this verse seems to be clearly speaking about the kohanim, who are the ones charged with performing the sacrificial service in the Beit Hamikdash. So where do we see that the verse is teaching of the greatness of Torah scholars who study at night? The gemara points us in the correct direction when it asks, “What is the purpose of “at nights” in this verse?
The Maharsha explains, that although Rabbi Yochanan’s teaching is certainly not the straightforward meaning of the verse (i.e. the pshat), the final word in the verse — ba’leilot” — at nights — is a hint that there is an additional teaching that is hinted to in this verse. Since the main sacrificial service that took place in the Beit Hamikdash took place during the daytime, “at nights” seems incongruous. Therefore, the Mahrsha explains that the verse is also referring to Torah scholars, since, in general, people are busy during the day with their livelihoods, and have free time to be immersed in Torah only at night. Torah scholars who serve
Without downplaying the importance of Torah study during the day as well, we find in the words of the Rambam that the night is an especially fortuitous time for Torah study. He writes is the Laws of Talmud Torah (3:13): “"Although it is a mitzvah to learn Torah day and night, one acquires most of his wisdom from learning at night. Therefore, if one wishes to gain the crown of Torah, he must be careful with all of his nights, and not waste any of them in sleeping, eating, drinking, talking or similar activities.”
Although the Rambam may just be “playing up” the importance of the available time at night for Torah study, as the Maharsha explained, a careful reading of his words seem to indicate a different emphasis on nightly Torah study. The Rambam seems to indicate that the nature of the night as a time for immersion in Torah study is one that holds special significance. The night is beyond merely being just another stretch of time on the clock. It is especially suited to Torah study due to a reason the Rambam does not seem to reveal in natural terms. Over the years I have spoken to more than one great Torah scholar who has described the special nature of nocturnal Torah study with super-superlatives, even going so far to say that hidden paths of wisdom open during Torah study at night. It’s more than just a “quiet time” or “free time” according to the Rambam. It’s an auspicious time for one who desires to earn the crown of Torah.