PUT YOUR FEET IN THE CONCRETE
OK. So you've decided that you want to take advantage of the unique opportunity for growth and personal development provided by the seven weeks of between Passover and Shavuot, known as the Sefirat Ha'omer.
OK. So you've decided that you want to take advantage of the unique opportunity for growth and personal development provided by the seven weeks of between Passover and Shavuot, known as the Sefirat Ha'omer. 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 his 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 attend Shabbat services twice in the weeks following the High Holidays, 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-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 general terms. Without specific, action-oriented commitments, real Jewish growth will likely prove elusive. Anyone committed to improving their Jewish observance should actively pick at least one mitzvah upon which they can focus their efforts. An overall attitude of "I'll be better this year," such as the one expressed by the Davids of the world, will accomplish relatively little unless translated into something concrete. Although well-intentioned motives are at play, inspiration that is not 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 make a weekly effort to invite one new friend to the Shabbat morning beginners' service.
2) Make a commitment that you will pray on behalf of an unmarried person looking for a shidduch (a match) every day this week.
3) Make a commitment that no matter what happens, you will control your temper tomorrow.
4) Make a commitment that each day you will think of one thing for which you have to be grateful.
5) Make a commitment to buy an authentic Torah book in English (there are thousands to choose from!) and read for 15 minutes every night before bedtime.
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 all weighed equally by 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 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.
Sammy Bregman, a second year student at Emory University School of Law, writes from Atlanta. This article is dedicated to Lawrence and Lisa Stroll and family, in appreciation of their dedication to the Jewish people and for showing us what it means to live a life of sustained spiritual growth and true religious commitment.
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