3. Learning Torah by Night
1:5 It is meritorious for a person who is able to arise a little before midnight in order to recite “Tikkun Chatzos.” The basis of this practice is a verse in Eicha (2:19) that refers to the power of crying out during the night. Those who cannot do so at midnight might still recite it before sunrise as per King David’s statement that he will be up to greet the dawn (Psalms 57:9). After reciting the Tikkun Chatzos, one should study Torah. While any area of Torah study is acceptable, learning mishnayos is the preferred practice. (Mishna, an anagram in Hebrew for “neshama” (soul), is symbolically linked to one’s spiritual well-being.) The Talmud in Tamid (32b) tells us that if one studies Torah by night, he enjoys God’s presence metaphorically joining him. It is better to study a little with full concentration than to invest much time and do a poor job. (Quality trumps quantity.) In the winter, when nights are short, it’s important for a person to make sure that he gets up with enough time to get ready for shul in the morning.
1:6 Barring extreme circumstances, the Written Torah, which includes the entire Tanach (i.e., the Books of the Torah, Prophets and Writings) should not be recited by heart even by a person who knows them thoroughly. (Extreme circumstances would include, for example being in prison. Similarly, a blind person has no alternative in the matter and may recite Biblical verses by heart.) According to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the ban on reciting verses by heart includes Tehillim (Psalms), though the Mishnah Brurah (49:6) permits saying Psalms by heart since one generally does so as a form of prayer. Nevertheless, one may only do this when reciting Psalms for oneself. If one is reciting them for others, he may not do so by heart.