“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).
When a person gets dressed, even when he is alone in his house, it is proper that he act modestly. He should not say, “I am in the privacy of my own room; who can see me?” for Hashem’s greatness fills the whole world. Therefore, it is proper that one who sleeps without clothing be careful not to arise from his bed nude and then get dressed. Instead, he must partially dress under his blanket while still in bed, so that his ervah (nakedness) will remain covered when he rises. Similarly, when one needs to change his underwear, it is proper to do so under a blanket, or while he is wearing a long robe that covers his ervah. He may change his underwear in the bathroom or shower room, for those places are intended for that purpose – undressing there is not an affront to modesty.
It is an extra pious act to be cautious that every part of the body that one respectfully covers when in the company of family and close friends is covered when one is alone as well. Therefore, it is an expression of piety not to be without an undershirt, even when alone in a room. If a person wants to change his undershirt, he demonstrates his piety by doing so only in the bathroom.
When someone suffers greatly from the heat, even in accordance with the extra pious custom, he is permitted to remove his undershirt. However, he may certainly not expose his ervah. Talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) are generally more stringent. Even on hot days when they are alone in their rooms, they do not remove their undershirts, nor sit in their house shirtless among their close friends or family members.
All the circumstances mentioned above are situations in which there is no real need to expose one’s ervah. However, when there is a necessity, such as for bathing or medical purposes, one is permitted to uncover his ervah (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, part 3, 68:4).
In order to slightly clarify the matter of modesty, it is necessary to initially state that in the beginning, when Adam was created, he was pure and clean, both spiritually and physically, and he did not feel a need to wear clothes. However, after the sin, he began to feel ashamed of his nudity. From then on, we all cover our bodies with clothes, especially those parts connected to the sexual drive and the disposal of waste.
The bare body emphasizes in an extreme manner the physical and animalistic side of humans. However, the form of the human body, with all the details and intricacies of its organs, also contains profound and phenomenal allusions to the soul, which the wisdom of the Kabbalah discusses in great length. It is the destiny of the body to reveal and actualize all those spiritual ideas. However, following Adam’s sin, man’s view of the world became more external. At first glance, we see only the corporeal component of the human body, which causes us to forget its spiritual core. Therefore, it is proper to hide the parts of the body that are normally covered, to better emphasize a person’s inner spirituality, which is the source of his beauty, and thus allow this exalted spiritual beauty to extend over his whole body. That is what Chazal infer when they state that it is in fact modesty which preserves beauty, by nourishing its eternal root (see BamidbarRabbah 1:3).
. In Tractate Shabbat 118b, Rabbi Yossi is praised for the fact that the walls of his house never saw the inside seams of his robe. Chazal learn from this that even when a person is alone in his room it is an extra pious act not to expose the parts of his body that are normally covered. This is broughtin Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 2:1-2. There is room to question the reason for this prudence. Was it the fear that perhaps, when he was dressing, his ervah would have been revealed, for in those days people regularly slept in the nude? Or was he being careful not to expose a large area of his nakedness? Or was he being strict that even regularly covered parts of his body stayed covered while he was dressing? (See Beit Yosef.) The halachic significance of this question is whether or not one needs to change his undershirt and pants under a blanket or in the bathroom. From Aruch HaShulchan 2:1, it seems that the essence of this stringency is to make sure one does not expose half of his body, but he explicitly permits revealing one’s legs. If so, one may change his pants without covering himself, if he is wearing underwear. But concerning an undershirt, it is proper to be careful. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ,ztz”l, similarly notes in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3:1 that whoever is wearing underwear need not get dressed under a blanket. The Mishnah Berurah 2:1 is stringent, based on a number of Acharonim, and states that one may not reveal any parts of the body that are normally covered. Therefore, even one’s socks should be put on under a blanket. However, Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah, part 3, 47:3, and section 68:4, explains this to mean that any part of a person’s body that is considered shameful to expose while sitting in his house with his family or friends should not be revealed when he is alone as well; every place according to its custom. Therefore, nowadays, even according to the Mishnah Berurah it is certainly not necessary to be strict about one’s socks. Furthermore, he writes, the extra pious custom only applies under regular conditions, but one who suffers from heat is permitted to be lenient (and remove his shirt and even his undershirt). This is the law regarding an elderly person who has difficulty changing his undershirt under a blanket, or a woman who is afraid her shirt will get wrinkled. (This is also written in Halachah Berurah 2:1, in the name of his father, Rav Ovadyah Yosef). However, the Igrot Moshe adds that one’s ervah itself should not be revealed at all unless there is a substantial need, such as for bathing and medicinal purposes. Based on this, I have differentiated above regarding the extra pious act,between one’s ervah and the other parts of the body that are normally covered. Concerning an undershirt, I wrote “the extra pious act,” for even though the Shulchan Aruch brings it as halachah, most poskim agree that it is an extra pious act and not an obligation (see Mishnah Berurah 3:18, where it talks about this law). (Moreover, one may say that during the time of Chazal, it was a comfortable solution to put one’s head and hands in his robe while still lying down, and that way, when he rose he was automatically covered, but to put on a tight undershirt under a blanket is harder. This is another reason why it is an extra pious act and not a mandatory custom. Furthermore, today there are places in which people are not embarrassed to sit in front of their friends without an undershirt.) Talmidei chachamim are customarily more meticulous in observing the extra pious custom, and even when it is very hot, they certainly do not walk around their houses shirtless. Many are even strict not to walk around their houses in a sleeveless undershirt.
It is an extra pious act to commence all things with one’s right side, because the Torah ascribes more importance to a person’s right side (as was in the Temple when sprinkling oil on a lepers’ right thumb and big toe). According to Kabbalah, ‘right’ signifies grace and compassion, while ‘left’ signifies judgment and law, and with our actions, we should augment grace over judgment. Therefore, those who observe the extra pious custom are strict to eat with their right hands. Additionally, for washing and applying creams, one’s right side precedes his left. When washing one’s entire body, a person should first wash his head and then wash his right side. Also when dressing, it is an extra pious act to begin with the right sleeve, and do the same with pants and socks. When removing one’s clothes, one should start with the left side.
Concerning shoes, the law is more complex. On the one hand, one should begin with the right side. On the other hand, we learn from the commandment 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 his right and then left shoe, without tying them, and when tying the laces, he starts with the left and then ties the right (Shabbat 61a; Shulchan Aruch 2:4).
A person who is left-handed starts with his right side, both for putting on his shoes and tying the laces.
The objective of this halachah is to ensure that every deed we do, even such a mundane act as putting on our shoes, is done as precisely as possible. For indeed, people put on their shoes every day, so why not learn to do it in the most perfect way? Certainly, one who accidentally mixes up the sequence need not take off his shoes in order to put them on again in the appropriate order. With these halachot, Chazal teach us to attribute value to every act we perform, along with their details, thereby helping us to grasp the profundities of the actions that make up our lives.
. Starting with one’s head and proceeding with the right side of the body concerning washing and applying creams is clarified in Shabbat 61a. The order for dressing is explained in Magen Avraham and Kaf HaChaim 2:7, in the name of Sha’ar HaKavanot, as well as Shulchan Aruch HaRav 2:4 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 3:4.
. Mishnah Berurah 2:6, based on the Bechor Shor. (See Minchat Yitzchak 10:1 as well.) This implies, therefore, that concerning putting on other clothing, even a left-handed person enhances the mitzvah by starting with his right side, just as they would sprinkle blood on a left-handed person’s right thumb, (based on the opinion of most poskim, see Encyclopedia Talmudit, part 1, “Iter”). However, regarding eating, we obviously do not trouble a left-handed person to eat with his right hand. Regarding the recital of a berachah, it is the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah 206:18 (based on a number of Acharonim) that a left-handed person should hold the object over which he is reciting a berachah in his left hand. The kabbalists maintain that he should hold it in his right hand (Kaf HaChaim 206:30).