This year, my wife and I welcomed a healthy baby boy into our family. He smiles whenever our eyes make contact, and laughs whenever we rub his chubby belly. No words or actions can ever express the gratitude we feel toward God for this blessing.
As it turns out, our bundle of joy loves to show off his roaring voice every morning at around four o’clock. To his credit, he usually goes right back to sleep after drinking a bottle. But for his dad, going back to sleep has not been as easy.
After many early mornings of tossing and turning, looking at the clock as night slowly turns into day, I decided to put my new alarm system to good use. Instead of lying awake and frustrated in bed, I decided to get up and be ready to be on my bike by 5:00 a.m.
There is an ancient Jewish tradition of praying the daily morning service with the rising sun, and though the morning prayers can be offered until midday, it is an awesome experience to perform the service along with the first light of day – the earliest time one can pray the morning service.
Since moving to the Holy Land, I have learned that many synagogues in Israel follow this ancient tradition of praying with the rising sun. So now, thanks to my new alarm clock (ahem … I mean, baby), I have joined my brothers of the dawn at the early bird service.
Zipping on my bike through the lamp-lit streets is itself an experience. Everything is silent besides the chattering of a few birds, and the only people I see are other worshipers heading to synagogue with their prayer shawls and phylacteries at hand.
Though I am still a novice at the early-morning service – I used to pray after dropping my kids off at school – I’ve found that it is much easier to focus on prayer when the world outside is still in slumber.
Interestingly, God set His alarm – my son – to be born in the month of Elul, to shake me out of bed and wake me up for the morning prayer service. On the Jewish calendar, Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year and beginning of the High Holy Days), ushers in a season of repentance, which is characterized by the blowing of the ram’s horn, or shofar, at the conclusion of morning prayers.
Anyone who has ever heard the sound of the shofar in person knows how it pierces the heart and silences the mind. The pitch rises higher and higher like a siren. And though the purpose is not to warn us to flee from imminent danger, it too cannot be ignored. The shofar beckons us to approach Rosh Hashanah with humility, and to seek God’s mercy through charity, prayer, and repentance.
Now, as I ride my bike to synagogue at dawn to join the morning prayer service, I think of how God blesses us and guides us even when we are unaware. At first, when I would hear my son’s wailing at four in the morning, my reaction was “here we go again.” Now I jump out of bed with excitement, eager to feed my son and then to feed my soul, which is hungry for closeness and connection to God. It’s amazing how God turned something that seemed like a burden into a strength and blessing!
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I pray we all see God’s blessings in our lives. May we all live a life that gives joy to us and the ones we love – a life filled with holiness and purity, so that both we and our Creator can rejoice over His creation.
-by Ami Farkas