13 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pinchas
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Get up like a Lion    

Get up like a Lion

As soon as a lion smells, hears or sees another animal in the area, it immediately goes from the rest or sleep state into a full speed charge without even a moment of thought…


The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) begins with a very clear and strong instruction for how we are to begin our day as a Jew; as a servant of Hashem. 


Here is the translation of the opening line...


Strengthen yourself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve your Creator.


I had read this line over and over and prayed to Hashem to be able to understand it and know how to fulfill it properly. After about 15 minutes the following thought appeared to me, "What exactly is that unique quality of a lion that I must mimic and strengthen myself in, in order to be able to properly fulfill this halacha?" You see, if I do not familiarize myself with the nature of the lion, how in the world will I be able to know how to strengthen myself like one?


I then immediately booked a ticket and spent the next 13 years of my life on Safari in Africa studying lions in the wild... (That was a joke; actually baruch Hashem, I found a much better solution to my problem).


I looked into the commentaries of the Shulchan Aruch to see if they had any insight to help me with my question. And so it was, the very first one I looked at was the Be'er Hetev (Rav Yehuda Ashkenazi ZT"L) and he directed the reader to research 2 other sefarim (books) of early halachic responsa in order to discover the answer. I did not have these sefarim handy (although I would still very much like to read what is written there) so I went and asked our Yeshiva's halacha Rabbi to see if he could help me. I told him that I was trying to discover what the exact nature of a lion was so that I could work on properly fulfilling this halacha, and that I did not know how to access these two sources.


He told me that he had read them and he remembers that they explain that the male lion spends most of the day in sleep or lying down at rest. However, the second it smells, hears or sees another animal in the area, it immediately goes from the rest or sleep state into full speed charge without even a second of thought. 


He said that this was the characteristic of the lion that the halacha wants us to imitate. The instant the alarm rings, or the second we open our eyes in the morning, we are to immediately jump right into our service of Hashem. He then cautioned me that the human body was not built like that of a lion, and therefore, we cannot immediately upon awaking from a sleep state jump right up on our feet. In fact, the commentaries teach that such an action is actually very dangerous for our health. 


Rather the proper plan should be as follows: immediately upon awakening, throw off the blanket, sit yourself up at a normal pace and say the "Mode Ani" prayer.


"Thankful am I before You, living and eternal King, for You have graciously returned to me my soul, great is my faith in You."


Some add: "May it be Your will that my heart be proper and given over to my control, so that I do not forget You, and may I not get angry or anger You."


Then one should wash their hands, use the bathroom, brush teeth, dress, etc.


All this is to be done in a continuous string until one is fully ready to go and serve Hashem. Some go to the mikva (ritual bath), some sit and learn for a bit, some read Tehillim (Psalms) or learn at the Beit Knesset (synagogue) before Shacharit (morning prayers), some spend a few minutes in personal prayer asking Hashem for help and guidance in the upcoming day. 


Whatever it may be, the main point is to be like a lion and instinctively perform your morning routine, without letting even a single thought enter into your mind. My eyes opened, the alarm sounded, I now do the routine until I am up and ready to serve my Maker. No thoughts of snoozing, or waiting for the second alarm, or resting a few more minutes, or its cold, etc. The lion doesn't think about what he should do, he sees the food and he charges. So too, we do not think about what to do in the morning. Our eyes open and we are up and running. 


Here are just a couple more nice quick ideas I found on this first halacha.


1. The Chida writes in Moreh Ba'etzba 3:63 that since this is the first law of the Shulchan Aruch, we must strengthen ourselves to fulfill it even more, because if the Yetzer Hara gets the best of a person on the very first law, it will make it very hard for him to then fulfill all the rest of the laws that follow.


2. The Pele Yoetz writes that nothing else does a better job at subduing the Yetzer Hara than getting up early in the morning.


3. The Ben Ish Chai writes that the reason it is written that you are to "Strengthen yourself..." is to inform you that there is someone in front of you at that very moment who is fighting against you. He (the Yetzer Hara) is coming at you right away with all types of excuses and trying to persuade you to not get up right now.


Short prayer to say every night at bedtime:


Hashem, please help me merit to get up like a lion to serve You in the morning. 


Let me not be distracted by even one single thought as I am preparing myself in the morning for Your service. Help me do everything I need to do quickly and easily without any distractions or delays.


Please give me strength in the morning and may I not feel any pain or fatigue when I wake up.


In the merit of my efforts to serve You, may You please remove my Yetzer Hara so that I am never again distracted away from Your service.


Thank you Hashem and Good Night.

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