It's day 2 of Daf Yomi, the 7 1/2-year cycle of studying the Babylonian Talmud worldwide. Again I'm not promising to keep up every day or how long I may sustain this. It does seem like a good idea to work through the first "tractate", Berachot or "Blessings", since it is source material for a lot about the structure and traditions of Jewish worship.
Today's page explores the significance of "midnight." In the original statement of law that the Talmud is dissecting, one can say the evening Sh'ma until midnight, which is the halfway point between sunset and sunrise and thus variable by day and season.
Like yesterday, I'm just struck by a series of associations with midnight and then the period before sunrise. Midnight is described as the time when, according to Psalm 119:62, "I rise at midnight to praise You for Your just rules." It's also the time when King David, according to legend, would be woken by a harp hanging above him, which would begin playing itself because of a divine spirit, and then he would spend the rest of the night studying Torah. Another source says that he would study Torah until midnight, and then for the rest of the night he would sing or compose songs.
Midnight is also identified as the time of the final plague in Egypt.
The last periods of darkness are described as a time when husbands and wives speak to each other in bed before they get up, and when babies begin to nurse.
There is also a section a bit earlier on the page that describes a conversation between Rabbi Yose and Eliyahu the prophet, in a ruined building where Rabbi Yose had ducked in from the street so he could pray. Eliyahu, who in the Talmud goes back and forth between heaven and earth, says that in a ruin there is a divine voice moaning in mourning for the destruction of the Temple that God God's-self caused because the Jewish people had strayed from God's ways. But whenever the Jews recite a line from the Kaddish, "May God's great name be blessed forever", God so to speak nods and feels calmed or reassured.
I'm intrigued in the moment by the connection between midnight as a time of melody, destruction, and clarity about justice. I don't know if the rabbis here are advocating waiting so late to recite the Sh'ma. Maybe as the day recedes farther and farther, when the daytime world is farthest away, some of these dimensions of reality are highlighted and spotlighted. For some, that would be an ideal state in which to study Torah or to meditate, not in escape from the world but again as yesterday to gain a frame through which to see it better.