Nittel Nacht

Q: I have heard that some people have the custom of not learning on the night of December 24th. What is the reason for this? Wouldn’t it make more sense that we should learn?

A: Just today, two people asked me this very question! I was walking home from the store this afternoon, and spotted one of my neighbors, a lawyer, who was home from work. He asked me, “Do you learn Torah on the night of Xmas?” I responded in the negative, and he proceeded to tell me that he simply doesn’t understand this custom. If anything, he asserted, it would make more sense that we should go out of our way to learn; and since when do we let the gentiles dictate when we can learn Torah? He concluded that we should not allow gentile behavior to impact our lives.

Rather than get into polemics, I replied, “To each his own.” As I walked away, I smiled and said, “Enjoy your day off from work – hey, I guess they do affect our lives after all!”

It is mentioned in Chassidic sources that the reason for not learning this night is to not “add vitality to the forces of kelipah.” What exactly this means, or how it works, I am not sure. However, I find it quite palatable to think that I am affected by my surroundings, and vice versa.

Everything needs to get nourishment from somewhere. You get physical nourishment from food; intellectual nourishment from Torah study; emotional nourishment from close personal relationships; and so on. In other words, you get vitality – on many planes – from things around you.

Kelipah, or the forces of darkness and evil, are no different. They too must be sustained from somewhere and somehow. The best option? Holiness.

To use someone’s wireless internet connection is not too complicated. Just “hop on” and surf away. However, for kelipah to “hop on” and draw vitality from holiness is not always so easy. Due to certain spiritual energies, some times may be more auspicious than others for kelipah to be energized by holiness. One such day is X-Mas eve.

The day supposedly celebrates the birth of a man who – directly or indirectly – led to the persecution and murder of millions of our people. Without getting into a discussion of the origins of Christianity, how many Jews were butchered in his name?

Again – how exactly this process works, I am not sure. But to learn Torah on this fateful evening (from three stars until chatzos) is to add vitality to this force of darkness. For this reason, in lieu of Torah study, Jews occupy themselves with other constructive and productive activities.