My morning started like every other. I woke up and my first conscious thought was to recite the Modeh Ani prayer, thanking G‑d for being alive. I got up, washed my hands and recited the morning blessings. I showered, got dressed and recited Shacharit,My mind often wanders, but I never lose my place the morning prayers. The familiar words flowed like water inside my head. I’ve been saying these words for so many years that they are engraved in my mind. Impossible to remove, impossible to change. We are supposed to stay focused throughout our prayers. I confess that my mind often wanders, but I never lose my place. Once I start, the process of reciting the words is automatic.

It’s as if I’ve been brainwashed.

The word “brainwashing” has a sinister connotation: images of prisoners strapped down, eyes pried open, sleep-deprived, incessantly force-fed harmful ideologies until they internalize the messages and identify with their captors. But think about it: who among us doesn’t need their brain actually washed? Who among us doesn’t have impure thoughts and bad habits that could use a good scrubbing? I can clean my body in the shower, but how do I clean my mind?

As with everything in life, our Creator anticipated this need and provided the solution. Through our daily prayers we reinforce—thousands of times—our Jewish ideology. The words flow in our heads, just like water flows in the shower. The Torah is often compared to water, and it’s that water—the water of Torah—that’s washing us from the inside out.

My first waking thought each day isn’t to roll over for another hour. No, I’ve been brainwashed to immediately thank G‑d for the gift of another day. And when I’ve been running errands like a frantic chicken all morning and finally get a chance to sit and eat a sandwich, I don’t dive right in. No, I’ve been brainwashed to say hamotzi first, and remember I’m a human who can control my appetite.

The foundational book of Chassidism, the Tanya, teaches us that our minds should control the actions of our bodies, just as a rider controls his horse. If the rider is out of control, the horse will run wild. The horse is trained by the rider. But how is the rider trained? As Jews, we know that everything in life can be used for good or for bad. Despotic rulers use brainwashing to force-feed propaganda to their citizens, and thereby develop their loyalty and obedience without question. Jews use brainwashing to strengthen our loyalty to our Ruler, G‑d, and to train our minds to obey His Torah. Not just our morning prayers, but our entire day is filled with thoughts, words and actions that we repeat until, like the prisoner, we internalize the message and identify with our “Captor.”

But our Captor is our loving Father, and instead of being brainwashed to submit to the will of a despot, our brains are washed, and we joyfully submit to the yoke of heaven. We are not helpless prisoners; we are truly free to live our best lives.

Judaism is not just a book we read, a set of words we recite or a listJudaism is not just a book of rituals we perform. It is who and what we are. I think of it as a verb—as an active process—and not as an adjective that is attached to me like a hair color. It is not incidental to my identity; it is my identity.

And so, these words each morning are infused with meaning. They are daily touchstones by which I can measure myself. I don’t just recite the words by rote, I ask myself, “What do I see in them that I didn't see yesterday?” because while the words may be the same as yesterday, I am not the same person I was then. The events of each day change us in subtle ways. Judaism is the process that makes all those subtle daily changes healthy, positive ones. And so, I start the day by brain washing—immersing myself in the words as I take stock of myself in the new day.

Just as G‑d engraved the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, we engrave the words of our daily prayers in our minds. The mitzvot we perform become the physical habits that define us. And just as the words on the tablets were engraved all the way through, the words of our prayers and the actions we perform completely penetrate us. We brainwash, and thereby, brain wash.

And that’s why we pray every morning. Not just when we’re in the mood. Not just when we have plenty of time. Every day. Each repetition engraves the words a little deeper and reinforces them within us. When we lose focus, we gently turn our thoughts back to the words, letting them cleanse our minds of all the impurities and distractions that life can create. We start our days with fresh minds, and this will guide our actions throughout the day.

We let ourselves be brain washed.