Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai says:
One who stays awake at night or travels alone on the road, but turns his heart to idleness – indeed, he bears guilt for his soul.
A fourth generation teacher, a student of Rabbi Akiva. A story is told that he was so engrossed in his studies for many years away from his home and family that when he returned he no longer recognized his town, his home or his children. However, it should be noted that his wife fully supported his scholarly ways and work.
So, what is this saying all about? Most of the commentators note that given the opportunity for peace and quiet that might come rarely in one’s busy life – to not take advantage of it to study and learn is to waste something quite precious.
Others commentators think that the warning is simply that we must take care of ourselves and be sure to get adequate sleep so as to be at our best in our work and studies and family time. Hence – don’t stay up late or travel at night capriciously.
I think both readings might well apply to us today.
Long ago, I was a graduate student studying at night. I had a drive of about an hour each way to and from my classes. I used to listen to a radio preacher on AM radio – the one who recently was predicting the Rapture on May 21 of this year. He had a radio network and an evening show in which he took questions and gave out answers. I thought his answers were consistently wrong, so I tried to answer the callers’ questions from my own tradition. I didn’t waste the time. Today when I travel, however, I generally turn on sports radio or some lively music – in a good effort to stay awake. Sometimes the needs of the body trump the needs of the spirit!