How do you feel about waking up before sunrise?

Two strange things happened this week.

First, the Senate passed a bill unanimously. When was the last time THAT happened? I thought they always argued about everything and anything. Good for them for finally agreeing on something!

The second strange thing was the actual bill.

They voted to eliminate changing the clocks. Gone is the fall back to standard time (with the age-old question: what are you going to do with the extra hour?). Now we will have daily savings time forever.

My first thought was: yay! Short Fridays! In the winter, Shabbat can begin as early as 4:10pm, and that makes Fridays feel like an obstacle course racing. It’s a mad rush to finish everything that needs to be done before Shabbat – cooking, baking, bathing, and doing anything that cannot be done on Shabbat. Another hour sounds like a pretty good idea to me!

Then I realized: it also means late sunrise. At times, the sun will rise after 8am! As a parent of young children, I often find myself often up before sunrise. Still, I am not sure if I will recommend this to the entire country.

How do you feel about that? Would you like to wake up before sunrise?

And what does the Torah say about this?

Interestingly enough, the Rambam (Maimonides) actually recommends that everyone wake up before sunrise. Here are his words (Mishneh Torah, De’ot 4):

“Together, day and night make up [a period of] twenty-four hours. It is sufficient for a person to sleep a third of this period, i.e., eight hours. These should be towards the end of the night so that there be eight hours from the beginning of his sleep until sunrise. Thus, he should rise from his bed before sunrise.”

And here is a quote from King David with Rashi’s commentary (Psalm 57):

“I will awaken the dawn: I awaken the dawn; the dawn does not awaken me.”

It seems to me that waking up before sunrise symbolizes something much deeper.

As humans, we pay great significance to the circumstances, to all those things that happen to us and we have no control over. Is it rainy outside? No wonder I feel so gloomy. Was my boss rude? Don’t expect me to be on my best behavior today. Did I grow up in an unsupportive environment? That might explain some of my character traits.

But the Torah empowers us to look past the circumstances; regardless of what is happening to us, we have the tools and the inner strength to be good and do good.

You see this motif again and again in our holidays.

On Sukkot, we build a Sukkah and eat outside precisely when it starts to get cold.

On Chanukah, we light the candles when it gets dark.

During Purim, we are expected to reach the highest level of joy even when we don’t feel like it.

And Passover reminds us to “go out of Egypt” and break free from our inner limitations.

The famous joke says that you can summarize the Jewish holidays in one phrase: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

But perhaps we should summarize it a bit differently:

The circumstances are not favorable; we have the power to make a difference; let’s do it!

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of
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