I prayed with a chorus of birds this morning, in the magical space in time the rabbis called דמדומי חמה- the sun’s stupefying silence. As the light gradually overcame the darkness, I was enlightened with an insight. Rabbi Yosef Karo’s code of Jewish Law, the Shulchan Aruch, opens with the Jew’s first job of the day- to wake up the morning- שיהא הוא מעורר את השחר. To wake up the morning? What does that mean?
One way of experiencing life is as a series of unfortunate events, almost entirely beyond our control. As the rabbis say “against your will you were born”- from the first moment, when we are born into a particular time, and place, with a particular genetic makeup, an endless number of possibilities are denied us. It’s a depressing thought, especially because it seems inescapably true.
Halacha is Judaism’s response, offering a path that allows us to infuse our existence with transcendent meaning, to transform fate into destiny. The sun will rise, the day will begin and start to make its demands on us. We can be passive and responsive, waiting for the alarm or the cries of our children to force us out of bed. Or, we can wake up like a lion, awaken the morning, and sing with the birds.