Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 119: King David's Nightly Schedule


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:

  • David rose sometime in the night, but never later than midnight.
  • The first half of the night David would sleep fitfully, like a horse sleeping lightly while standing. But at midnight, he would be fully awake, like a vigilant lion.
  • During the first half of the night, David would study Torah. But at midnight, he would begin to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving.

  • Private and Public Service

    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:

  • Regularity. Unlike his private spiritual service, his public duties could not be neglected. David would rise sometime in the night, but never later than midnight — the hour when he would occupy himself in public service.
  • Intensity. In his private Torah study before midnight, David’s level of concentration depended upon his energy that particular evening. During those hours, he was like a weary horse, struggling against sleep. But in his labors for the nation, David would concentrate all of his powers, like an embattled lion. He refused to allow fatigue or weariness to interfere with his public service.
  • Content. Before midnight, David dedicated himself to his own spiritual growth, through Torah study. But after midnight, he would compose lofty songs of praise and thanksgiving, such as the Book of Tehillim — an extraordinary gift for all peoples and all times.

    (Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 8)

  • Illustration image: ‘Study of King David’ (Julia Margaret Cameron, 1866)

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