The Gaon Rabbi Nissim Lopez ztz”l
There is a very moving story that impresses upon us how important it is to study Torah after midnight
before Hashem, blessed be He. The event occurred in the year 5657 (1896 – 1897) in the holy city of Jerusalem.
The gaon Rabbi Nissim Lopez ztz”l lived in Aram Soba [Aleppo, Syria], and was one of the greatest scholars in that city. He practiced chassidut and prishut stringently, and every night woke up to serve Hashem at midnight. Rabbi Lopez become very knowledgeable in all facets of the Torah.
The other scholars in Aram Soba held Rabbi Lopez in very high esteem, and said about him “Gedolei ma’aseh Nissim” – a play on words incorporating his name, meaning, “great miraculous deeds” – or, “Nissim’s deeds are great”. This was not only because he was great in Torah, but because of his pure conduct before his heavenly Father. Rabbi Nissim was on only child, and when his mother died, his father Rabbi Ezra went to the rabbinical court and bequeathed all of his worldly possessions to his son while he was still alive. Sometime later, Rabbi Nissim’s father decided to remarry, but nobody wanted to have anything to do with him because word got out that he had given all of his property to his only son. No woman wanted to marry him.
When Rabbi Nissim realized that his father’s suffering was on his account, he immediately tore up the documents registering his father’s property into his name, saying, “I don’t want to cause my father, my teacher and rabbi, any pain in this world or the next just because of monetary gain. And ‘He who gives life will provide a livelihood’.” Immediately after that, Rabbi Nissim’s father found a notable and proper woman to marry, and Rabbi Nissim treated her with great respect.
When Rabbi Nissim was twenty-six years old, he lost his eyesight. Despite that tragedy, he continued to learn Torah for the rest of his life with great enthusiasm and intensity, eventually authoring an important commentary on the Rambam. When he died, the gaon Chacham Yaakov bar Shaul Dweck Hacohen eulogized him, and praised him highly for being very knowledgeable in many facets of the Torah - Tanach, Mishna, Gemara, Kabbala, Halacha, and Agada. He wrote several interpretations on the Shas and on Agada, and merited to arise every night at midnight...
After his death, Rabbi Nissim Lopez appeared in a dream to the gaon Rabbi Avraham Adas, ztz”l, and told him: After his burial, angels came and lifted him out of his grave and hurled him to the ground. He landed on the tips of his toes – and that was the extent of his “chibut hakever” [torments of the grave]. After that, he was accompanied to Gan Eden. And he merited that treatment because of his chassidut and exemplary character traits.
Three years after Rabbi Lopez’s death, several scholars from Aram Soba established a Kollel Chatzot in Jerusalem, called “Shomrim L’Boker”, with the goal of waking up every night at midnight to study Torah until dawn. To that end, a man was assigned the task of waking up all the people at midnight, and a few sextons were appointed to oversee the learning, to ensure that everything was conducted in an orderly fashion. And indeed, a group began learning in the “Raban Yochanan Ben Zakai” synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the year 5657 (1896 – 1897).
In time, one of the sextons fell ill and was hospitalized. That night Rabbi Lopez appeared to the sick sexton in a dream, and said to him, “My friend, you must know that as a result of the great deed you performed to merit the masses, to wake them up at midnight to arise and learn Torah, you caused great joy and pleasure in Heaven. But why for the last three nights have you denied the heavens this entertainment? For the people have not arrived to study, as they were accustomed to.” The sexton awoke from his sleep feeling happy, because the deeds of the “Shomrim Laboker” kollel were desired in Heaven. On the other hand, he was sorry for the lack of Torah study over the past three nights, but didn’t know how and why that had happened.
The sexton went to the home of the man appointed to wake up the students, with the intention of chastising him for shirking his duty. The man apologized and said that he, too, was sick and confined to bed. He explained that he had hired someone else to wake everyone up, but that man had apparently not fulfilled his role as promised. Once the ill sexton knew the reason for the lax in study at the Kollel, he took it upon himself to make a monumental effort to fulfill the lofty mitzva of bringing merit to the masses, and from then on wake up the students at midnight himself.
When this story was publicized in Jerusalem, people said about it, “Tzaddikim are great in their deaths! Since Rabbi Nissim Lupez was completely devoted in his lifetime to the mitzva of waking at midnight, he merited that even after his death a messenger was sent from Heaven to bring merit to the masses, and encourage Torah study at midnight. (source: Laylot K’Yamim, page 125).