Chapter 04: Waking Up in the Morning

01. Wake Up Like a Lion

“One must become strong like a lion to arise in the morning to serve his Creator, for he should be the one who awakens the dawn” (SA 1:1). The way one gets up in the morning largely indicates her spiritual and emotional state and influences her functioning throughout the entire day. One who has purpose in life wakes up driven and filled with alacrity to face a new day. She usually wakes up early in the morning so she can accomplish more throughout the day. However, one who has lost her moral bearings and sense of mission has lost the reason for living and has no challenge that makes it worth getting up in the morning. She therefore feels fatigued and distressed in the mornings. Only when left with no choice does she finally wake up, late and sluggish, to another dull and despondent day. Nevertheless, if she were to bolster her faith and arise eagerly, vitality and joy would ignite her spirit, and she would be able to start her day invigorated.

The Aĥaronim recommend saying Moda Ani, “I thank You, living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul with compassion. Abundant is Your faithfulness” immediately upon waking up  (Seder Ha-yom, aYHaYMB 1:8). Faith gives purpose to life. If God chooses to grant someone life, it means that her existence has great value. From that conviction, one can arise in the morning with enthusiasm and strength. The Sages state that one must wake up like a lion because a lion symbolizes one who has self-esteem and self-respect and uses that insight to courageously overcome all obstacles (see R. Naĥman of Breslov’s Likutei Halakhot ad loc.).

02. Modesty (Tzni’ut)

Even when one is alone is her house, it is proper that she acts modestly, and covers her body. She should not say, “Here I am in the privacy of my own room; who can see me?” for God’s honor fills the whole world. She must cover her body in God’s honor and out of respect for the divine image within her. For men, every body part that one usually covers out of respect when he is among family and close friends should also be covered when he is alone. Concerning women, since the rules of modesty are defined – sleeves until the elbow and skirts until below the knee – it is proper to walk around the house in that manner even when no other person is present.

Similarly, it is inappropriate for girls who live in a same-sex dormitory to walk around in immodest clothing. When getting dressed, it is proper for her to be strict and not change her undergarments in the room. She should change in the bathroom, shower room, or under a cover (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 7 n. 1).

Regarding a hair covering for a married woman in her house, some say that since the laws concerning hair-covering are not as strict as those governing the covering of one’s body – after all, it is unnecessary for single women to cover their hair yet they are required to cover their bodies – then as there are no strangers in her home, she may walk around without her hair covered. Other poskim are stringent and rule that she must cover her hair even when she is alone in her house (Peninei Halakha: Collected Essays IIICollected Essays III 3:6:18). However, when she is in her bedroom alone or with her husband while in a state of purity, she need not cover her hair.  

To explain the idea tzni’ut a bit, it is necessary to begin with the creation of mankind. When created, Adam was pure and clean, both spiritually and physically, and he did not feel any need to cover himself with clothing. However, after his sin, he began to feel ashamed of his nudity. From then on, we all cover our bodies with clothes, especially those parts connected to physical drives and disposal of waste.

The bare body emphasizes in an extreme manner the materialistic and animalistic side of humans. However, the form of the human body, with all the details and intricacies of its limbs, also contains profound and phenomenal allusions to the soul, which the wisdom of the Kabbala discusses in great length. It is the destiny of the body to actualize all those ideas. However, following the sin, our view became more external. At first glance, we only see the corporeal component of the human body, which causes us to forget its spiritual core. Therefore, it is proper to conceal the body, to better emphasize one’s inner spirituality, which is the source of his allure, and allow refined beauty to extend over his whole body. That is what the Sages allude to when they state that modesty in particular preserves beauty, by the fact that it nourishes its eternal root (see Bamidbar Rabba 1:3).

As we have learned, the restraint expressed by modesty emphasizes one’s spiritual component. In addition, modesty greatly contributes to the concentration of the body’s vital energies on the reinforcement of the connection between husband and wife. Modesty turns lust into love. Many people incorrectly think that tzni’ut is meant to dull beauty and the joy of life; however, the exact opposite is true. Tzni’ut preserves one’s beauty and vitality for her spouse, with whom one enters a covenant, in order to increase love, devotion, and life.

03. Getting Dressed and Putting on Shoes: The Practice of the Pious

The practice of the pious (minhag ĥasidim) is to begin with the right side in all matters, because the Torah attributes more importance to one’s right side (as in the ritual of sprinkling the blood of a leper’s guilt offering onto his right thumb and big toe). According to Kabbala, right signifies lovingkindness (ĥesed), and left signifies judgment (din). By favoring the right, we help ĥesed overcome din. Thus, the scrupulously pious eat with their right hands, wash and anoint the right before the left, and put on the right sleeve, pant leg, and sock before the left. When bathing, they wash the head first, and then wash the right arm before the left arm and the right leg before the left leg. When getting undressed, they first remove the article from the left side. 1

Concerning shoes, the law is more complex. On one hand, one should begin with the right side. On the other hand, we learn from the mitzva to tie tefillin on one’s left arm, that for all matters involving tying one is to start with the left side. Therefore, one first puts on her shoes, right before left, without tying them, and when tying the laces, she starts with the left and then ties the right (Shabbat 61a; SA 2:4). 2

One who is left-handed and left-footed begins with the right when she puts her shoes an as well as when she ties them. Since lefties tie tefillin on their right arms, the right takes precedence for tying as well. 3

The purpose of these practices is to ensure that everything we do, even a routine act like putting on shoes, is done mindfully and meticulously. After all, everyone puts on shoes every day, and if so, why shouldn’t she do it in the most optimal way? Certainly, the order is not a sine qua non; one who puts her shoes on out of order need not take them off to put them on again in the appropriate order.

Through these halakhot, the Sages teach us to attribute value to every act we perform. This allows us to grasp all the details of the actions that make up our lives more deeply.

 

  1. The order of precedence for washing and anointing is detailed in Shabbat 61a. The order for dressing is detailed in MA and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 2:7, in the name of Sha’ar Ha-kavanot, as well as SAH 2:4 and Kitzur SA 3:4.
  2. Halikhot Beitah 1 n. 14, expresses uncertainty about whether women, who do not put on tefillin, need to ascribe importance to the left side when tying. In his Sha’ashu’ei Zvi §3, R. Zvi Pesaĥ Frank writes that a woman may tie whichever side she prefers first. Even so, it seems that it is better that women also tie the left before the right, since the precedent from tefillin teaches that left precedes right in all matters of tying.

  3. MB 2:6, based on Bekhor Shor (and see Minĥat Yitzĥak 10:1) . This implies, therefore, that concerning putting on other clothing, even a lefty who takes on pious practices should start with her right side, just as blood would be sprinkled on a lefty’s right thumb (based on the opinion of most poskim; see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 1, s.v. “iter”). However, regarding eating, we obviously do not trouble a lefty to eat with his right hand. Regarding the recitation of a berakha, it is the opinion of MB 206:18 (based on several Aĥaronim) that a lefty should hold the object on which he is reciting a berakha in his left hand. The kabbalists maintain that he should hold it in his right hand (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 206:30).