How did King David spend his nights? This psalm contains two seemingly contradictory descriptions.
“I arose early in the evening and cried out; I placed my hope in Your word.” (119:147)
“At midnight I rose to thank You, for Your just laws.” (119:62)
When exactly did David get up — in the beginning of the night, or at midnight?
The Talmud in Berachot 3b resolves this discrepancy in three ways:
According to Rav Kook, all three explanations share a common message, as they distinguish between David’s conduct during the first and second halves of the night.
David dedicated his working hours to attending to the needs of the nation. The first part of the night, however, is the natural time for rest and recuperation. Instead of resting, David would utilize those hours for his own spiritual self-betterment. “I arose early in the evening” — in the first half of the night — contemplating God’s word, studying Torah.
“At midnight I rise to thank You” refers to the second half of the night. At that time, David’s service was of a more universal nature, as the “sweet singer of Israel” composed psalms of praise and thanksgiving.
The difference between his private spiritual labors and those for his people was expressed in three ways:
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 8)
Illustration image: ‘Study of King David’ (Julia Margaret Cameron, 1866)