It's 6 a.m. There are two types of people in the world at this hour. There are morning people, those perky and energetic folk who perform an Olympic-style triple axel out of bed and gracefully trot over to the bathroom as they hum their favorite tune. And then there are the rest of us. For us early morning zombies (or night owls as we prefer to be called), perhaps the greatest hurdle we must overcome each day is the initial experience of peeling our eyelids open, lifting our heads out of the puddle of drool that has gathered on our pillows, rolling out of bed and, through a whirlwind of dizziness, trying to find our way to the bathroom without stubbing a toe.
In this week's Torah portion we meet the prophet Bilaam, who set out on a mission to curse the Jewish people. The Almighty confused Billam, and his attempted curse turned out to be a poetic description of the beauty of the Jewish way of living and a blessing for the Jewish nation.
Among his many praises of the Jewish people, Bilaam mentions that we are "a people who arises like an awesome lion and raises itself like a lion, he does not lie down until he consumes prey." The commentaries explain that when a Jew arises he strengthens himself like a lion to grab Mitzvot like reciting the Shema and putting on tallit and tefillin. When he goes to sleep at night, he once again recites the Shema and gives his soul back to his creator with a prayer to protect it against any of the evil forces that might be spiritually harming it. These wake up and bedtime routines of the Jewish people were so central to Jewish life that they captured the attention and became the subject of praise of one of our archenemies.
Echoing the words of Bilaam, the Jewish Code of Law (the Shulchan Aruch) actually begins its instruction of daily Jewish life by saying "Arise like a lion to serve your Creator." Our entire day is rooted in those first few moments. If we wake up with zeal and a positive vibe towards the day that lies ahead, that energy will carry us through the daily grind as we catapult into a day of productivity and meaning.
What is the key to waking up like a lion? As Bilaam said, to "not lie down until we consume our prey." If we go to sleep on a low, carrying with us all of the pitfalls and stresses of the day, they will be right there waiting for us when we awake. But if we spend a few minutes coming to terms with everything that occurred - forgiving those who wronged us (as is the Jewish custom), forgiving ourselves for falling and forgiving God for the challenges He placed before us - then from the moment we pry our eyes open, no matter how heavy they are, we will be greeted by a new day that seems to be encouraging us to start again fresh. That 5-minute meditation at night could literally change our whole next day.
A teacher of mine once told me that when a Jew goes to sleep with God on his mind and wakes up with God on his mind, it is as if God never left his mind while he was sleeping. Not to minimize the wonders of that first cup of coffee in any way, but this feeling of Godliness can truly be the best part of waking up.