If you acquired a new car recently, you probably drove it happily for a while without even cracking open the operating manual in the glove box.
After all, you know how to drive and most cars are fairly standard. You switch it from P to D, press on one pedal to go fast and press the other one to slow down.
Maybe the first time you opened the manual was when it began to rain. At first glance, you needed an advanced engineering degree to operate the wiper system, but the index quickly took you to page 72, which helped you master the 17 modes for clearing raindrops from your windshield. The option for automatic operation whenever it senses raindrops is cool and makes you smile.
Later, while parked and waiting for someone, you page through the manual and discover that your car can sense whether you or your wife is driving and will automatically adjust the seat position to each driver’s preference.
These and other discoveries of just how brilliant the car’s designers are reaffirm how smart you are to have purchased this particular vehicle.
That’s my relationship with Judaism and the incandescent brilliance of its Designer. I continually discover “features” in the instruction manual that reaffirm my love affair with God and his book.
For instance, look at prayer.
Though praying alone is certainly preferable to not praying at all, praying along as part of a group of at least 10 men is the ideal and is strongly encouraged.
I might have thought that praying all alone, outside in some spectacular site of natural beauty, would be most appropriate. I could have my own cathedral in a canyon or my own synagogue in a lakeshore forest. But no; I please God more by praying with at least nine other men in a Brooklyn basement. It doesn’t have to be in Brooklyn; the important thing is the prayer quorum called a “minyan.” I have held prayer services on camping trips in canyons and in beautiful rainforests, but it was always as part of a group of 10 men.
One of the benefits was driven home for me on a recent gloomy afternoon at the cemetery, where we were laying my father-in-law to rest.
For all of his many good qualities, he was not a sociable man. The main features of his life were his work, his family and his synagogue.
To my astonishment, many men I did not know arrived for the funeral. At the conclusion of the ceremony, I inquired of each stranger, and they all told the same story. “We’ve prayed with Jack at the same minyan every morning for years.”
In general, women form and maintain social relationships far more reliably than men do. If you’re not sure of this, consider who takes care of birthday cards, holiday greetings and so on in your family. If the man is not engaged in any sports, as either player or fan, maintaining the discipline of a daily worship service in the company of other men does build relationships.
In the spring of 2014, Naval Adm. William H. McRaven addressed the students of the University of Texas at Austin, telling them the 10 lessons he learned from becoming a Navy SEAL.
The first lesson was to make your bed every morning. He explained that doing so means that you have accomplished one task before your day begins. It may not be a big task, but it leads to the successful completion of many other tasks.
This is even more true for a regular morning prayer discipline. Before I start my day, I have had a private conversation with my Creator, and nobody else expects more from me than he does. Because of this, I start my day with enthusiasm and passion rather than with lethargy.
Finally, women are said to like a man in uniform. If this is true, it would be because a man in uniform has shown himself able to accept authority and to be a man whom other men trust. It is good for a marriage if a wife feels this way about her husband.
Climbing out of bed early enough to make a prayer service each morning is the equivalent of a uniform. It shows that one is able to accept a higher authority and present oneself for duty on a regular and reliable basis.
• Rabbi Daniel Lapin, radio and television host, speaker and author, is president of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. His website is RabbiDanielLapin.com.