good morning enthusiasm

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-bedjumpRabbi Joseph Karo begins his code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) with a statement concerning the way one should get up in the morning:


השחר מעורר הוא שיהא, בוראו לעבודת בבוקר לעמוד כארי יתגבר

One should strengthen himself like a lion to get up in the morning to serve his Creator, so that it is he who awakens the dawn. (Orach Chaim 1:1)

There are at least three important statements in his introduction:

  1. One ought to be as strong as a “lion” when getting up in the morning
  2. One needs to “strengthen himself” to actually be able to be as strong as a “lion” upon awaking
  3. The purpose of the lion-like strength is for the service of God

Undoubtedly morning grogginess is not a phenomenon exclusive to the late 20th and early 21st centuries (although sleep habits are a big issue in our culture). The fact that Rabbi Karo explicitly states that one needs to “strengthen himself” to get up every morning in the fashion he describes is indicative of the fact that there is something challenging to it. If we follow the logic then we see that we must work hard every morning to be enthusiastic to serve our Creator; we need to act with enthusiasm before we feel enthusiastic!

In reality, Rabbi Karo is teaching something about the way to maintain enthusiasm consistently. Too often the emotional component of the middah of enthusiasm is overemphasized in the human experience. There are some things in life that may require my enthusiasm that I do not feel enthusiastic about. My clients need me to be focused and engaged when we interact. I may have a million other things going on in my life but my own emotional feeling of enthusiasm cannot be the deciding factor in determining whether or not I interact with them with enthusiasm. In other words, enthusiasm is beyond fleeting feelings. Enthusiasm, at its core, is a propelling force towards another person/object/task. That does not require my emotional excitement. What it does require is diligent effort. We need to work at enthusiasm and the effort may at times precede the excited feeling.

Enthusiasm enables us to serve God and others in a way that honors the dignity of both. The key to maintaining that enthusiasm is to not get so caught up needing the emotional rush of the excited feeling to come first in the journey to greater enthusiasm. The journey may begin with getting out of bed, whether it feels good or not, and pushing ourselves (and the world) closer to God.

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