“One should gather his strength like a lion to rise in the morning to serve his Creator and to awaken the dawn” (the opening of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:1). The manner in which a person gets up in the morning indicates to a large extent his general emotional state, and influences his functioning throughout the entire day. A person with a purpose in life arises filled with enthusiasm and alacrity to face a new day. He usually wakes up early in the morning, in order to accomplish more throughout the day. However, a person who has lost his values and sense of purpose lacks meaning in his life and the reason to get up in the morning. Instead, he feels fatigued and distressed in the mornings. Only when left with no choice does he finally wake up, late and sluggish, to another dull and despondent day. Nevertheless, if he were to bolster his faith and arise eagerly, vitality and joy would ignite his spirit, and he would be able to start his day invigorated.
This is the reason why praying vatikin is considered so praiseworthy – that “he should be the one who awakens the dawn” (Shulchan Aruch 1:1). Even before nature stirs and the sun rises, he gets up from his sleep and sings songs of praise before God. Although it is not the widespread custom today to get up for vatikin (see further in this book 11:5), every person must at least endeavor to rush to synagogue before the prayer service begins.
The Acharonim write that immediately upon waking up it is good to say Modeh Ani, “I gratefully thank You, living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul with compassion. Abundant is Your faithfulness” (Seder HaYom; aYHaYMishnah Berurah 1:8). Faith gives purpose to life. If HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose to grant someone life, it means that his existence has great value. Inspired by that conviction, one can arise in the morning with enthusiasm and strength. The Chachamim state that one must wake up like a lion because a lion symbolizes someone who loves himself, comprehends his self-worth, and can use that insight to courageously cope with all the obstacles standing in his way (see Rabbi Natan of Breslov’s Likutei Halachot on rising in the morning).