There is an old adage that asserts, “If you can command yourself, you can command the world.” This terse statement cogently avers that with proper self-discipline there is nothing you are incapable of doing.
Imagine having the willpower to efficiently carry out tasks you deem challenging, boring, unpleasant, or mundane. Your strong will enables you to apply yourself to whatever you wish, to become more focused, work harder, work longer, become more adept, not give up, to see things through to completion. Your iron resolve gives you the stick-to-itiveness, drive, ambition, resoluteness, persistence – all essential characteristics – that you need to realize your goals.
Being able to implement one’s wishes on a whim is not easy, but one propitious route to achieving the necessary self-discipline is engagement in the religious rituals of Judaism.
Some people are weaned on religious rituals, which are ingrained in their psyches as a natural part of their lives, while others come to them later in life, at which point they may become a natural part of their existence. Either way, the observant individual has the seeds of self-discipline that can be applied to nonreligious endeavors.
Cynics may regard religious rituals as antiquated and irrelevant. Observant Jews regard them as commandments and obligations necessary for a meaningful and spiritual life. But while Jewish religious rituals are sometimes regarded mainly as a religious practice, they are more auspiciously appreciated in a cognitive light.
That is because rituals are repetitive practices that require focus and concentration to complete. It takes faith and dedication to not just learn these rituals (and the meanings behind them) but to practice them properly day after day, year after year. Over time, self-discipline comes from learning, inculcation, repetition, experience, reinforcement, self-control, habit.
Practicing rituals builds alertness, mental stamina, memory, resolve, persistence, willpower, character. Performing rituals shapes a person’s mental processes – the way one thinks and behaves. They enable one to develop good habits. Goals and expectations are set. Time is managed more efficiently. Self-esteem and confidence are elevated.
All these positive elements may be channeled by the observant practitioner to achieve success in the secular world.
To some degree, success is an ineffable phenomenon. There is no formula for achieving it, as everybody has individual goals and those who succeed do so in their own unique way. But there are certain qualities that commonly characterize those who achieve success. These include having a goal and pursuing it with determination, resolve, persistence, vision, intelligence and confidence. It is these characteristics that are gained with the self-discipline that comes with practicing Jewish rituals.
All this is not to say that simply by being religious and practicing rituals one will be successful. But applying the self-discipline gained from performing Jewish religious rituals should help you effectively use your maximum ability in all facets of life.
There are rituals for every day, as well as for Shabbos, Yom Tov, and other occasions. And there are many activities the observant Jew must refrain from doing on certain days and at specific times.
On a daily basis, the observant Jew regularly engages in rituals for awakening, washing, dressing, wearing tzitzit, putting on tefillin, davening, studying Torah, maintaining proper character, observing the laws of kashrut, saying benedictions, and fulfilling religious duties.
Davening Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv merit further attention. These services contain numerous prayers, blessings and recitations and require concentration, dedication, and patience. Some people know these services by heart and can whiz through them alone or in a minyan, but there is still a lot to get through, and they are of substantial enough length that one’s mental processes are engaged in participating in them.
In davening through entire services multiple times a day, one builds up willpower, stamina and persistence. The individual who davens regularly may not even be aware of the strong mental processes he or she has developed over time. This individual has cultivated numerous admirable qualities and could apply them to other areas of life, if desired.
So it comes down to recognition and application for the observant individual who wishes to apply the self-discipline developed from davening to his or her secular life.
Of course, numerous other factors may contribute to an individual’s attainment of secular success. These include education, family, upbringing, friends, community, environment and passion for a goal. But these factors may all likewise contribute to the observant Jew’s development of self-discipline.
All told, practicing Jewish religious rituals builds self-discipline, which in turn may be applied to one’s secular life. As ancient wisdom proclaims, if you can command yourself, you can command your world.
About the Author: Harvey Rachlin, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History’s Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.
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