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“Put Your Feet In The Concrete”
By Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman
Ok. So you've decided that you want to grow and become a better Jew. The desire is there to fulfill your spiritual potential, grow closer to G-d, and forge your own personal link in our 4,000- year-long chain. Once you've made this initial commitment, the first question you'll likely ask is, "So where do I begin?"
Meet David. David has just had the High Holiday experience of a lifetime. The sound of the shofar has awakened his slumbering soul. The words of the rabbi's sermon have pierced the veil of spiritual complacency. For the first time in many years, David "felt something" during the synagogue service. After many years of spiritual meandering, David comments that this year he really is going to be a better Jew. Although David did proceed to attend Shabbat services twice in the weeks following the High Holidays, sadly, his jolt of Judaism quickly fizzled out. Twelve months later, David is essentially the same Jew.
All of us have met David. Truth be told, there's a little bit of David in all of us, a Jew who occasionally feels inspired and committed and... and that's all. Even the most growth-oriented among us suffers from it - we fail to translate our occasional zeal for improvement in our religious lives into something that lasts. So, where do we go wrong? After all, David was inspired! We live in America, and in this country, being inspired is what counts. What more could you possibly ask for?
Judaism is a religion that emphasizes turning inspiration into action. Oftentimes, well-meaning people make the mistake of expressing their commitments to growth only in very general terms. Without highly specific, action-oriented commitments, real Jewish growth will likely prove elusive. This author commonly refers to the strategy under discussion as, "Put Your Feet In The Concrete." Of course, I'm not speaking about wet pavement! I'm referring to the idea that anyone committed to improving their Jewish observance should actively pick at least one concrete mitzvah upon which they can focus their efforts. An overall attitude of "I will be better this year," such as the one expressed by the Davids of the world, will generally accomplish very little. Although well-intentioned motives are at play, inspiration that isn't quickly turned into action can never traverse the vast gap between theoretical improvement and real-life change.
There is good news to be heard in all of this. There are many concrete, Torah-based commitments that each of us can take on today, without any special knowledge, material, or Jewish education. For example, you might select one or more commitments from the following list:
1) Make a commitment that you will invite one Jewishly-unaffiliated friend to your Shabbat table each week.
2) Make a commitment that you will pray on behalf of an unmarried person looking for a shidduch (a match) for the next five days.
3) Make a commitment that no matter what happens, you will control your temper tomorrow.
4) Make a commitment that this Friday night you will think of three things for which you are grateful to G-d.
5) Make a commitment to buy an authentic Torah book in English (there are thousands to choose from!) or download a class from TorahAnytime.com and immerse yourself in it for 15 minutes before bedtime tonight.
Although it may seem that these are "easy" obligations to take on, each one is a bona fide religious expression available to every Jew. Remember that in Judaism, there is no such thing as a 'minor' mitzvah - those that seem difficult and those that seem easy are equally precious to G-d. Every idea on the preceding list has one thing in common, the words, "Make a commitment." As long as we're picking from a menu of authentic Jewish expression, there's one rule to remember: when it comes to growing in our Judaism, it does not matter as much what we do, but that we do.
Next time you see David leaving the synagogue, sensing that once again, "this is the year," share with him what you've learned. This year, both of you will be armed with a proven strategy guaranteed to yield rich returns that last the whole year through.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman is Founder of the Jewish Executive Learning Network (JELN.org), a Lakewood-based organization that shares the beauty of Torah study with young professional men in their 20's and 30's in the New York City area. His classes are available in video and MP3 formats through JELN.org and TorahAnytime.com. In addition to his communal work, Rabbi Bregman manages his own law firm, specializing in Business Law and Trusts & Estates. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.