Many of us know individuals who grew up observant, but no longer keep the mitzvot (commandments). Then there are those who are otherwise observant, yet lapse in some areas, such as the laws of business ethics, Family Purity, or Shabbat. We might include ourselves in either of these categories. Whether it is ourselves, family members, or friends, these breaches in Jewish practice can leave us feeling unsettled. We wonder, after thousands of years of family observance, or a former intense personal commitment, what happened? Where has the commitment gone?
Every case is different and it is not our place to judge. At the same time, there is a key principle: If a person’s bond with Judaism is not strong enough, it will break under pressure.
Temptations have reached new heights. Forbidden behaviors which were unthinkable in the past have become accepted by society and easily accessible. To counter these threats, our level of commitment must rise as well. No family or individual is immune.
Here are six strategies to strengthen your commitment to uphold G-d’s Torah. Each one stands alone, so start with the strategy you are most drawn to and build from there. Even if your observance has already lapsed, you can still strengthen your current level of commitment.
- Learn Torah every day. Daily, or at least weekly, study an area that interests you, preferably with a partner. Every Jew has a unique share in the Torah that resonates deeply. Part of our life’s mission is discovering and claiming that specific portion. It might be Chumash with a particular commentary, Nach, Midrash, Mishnah, Talmud, Jewish law or thought, the deeper meaning of Psalms and the prayers, Chassidut or a combination of the above (check out OU Torah for loads of resources). You will know you have found your portion in Torah when your learning becomes a highlight of your day or week.
- Pray with understanding. Prayer is an essential source of spiritual vitality. But we need to understand what we are saying. Pick at least one section and say the words with understanding and feeling. In addition to formal prayer, speak to G-d during the day. Share with Him your struggles and ask for His help.
- Choose a rabbi. A rabbi can serve many functions. He can teach Torah, answer religious questions, give life advice, serve as a role model, comfort during times of sorrow and encourage during times of challenge.
Choose a rabbi you respect and one who is accessible and understands your personal situation. He will help you fulfill the law as best you can. If you are unable to find a suitable rabbi, look for a spiritual mentor to guide you and ask them which rabbi to consult with on religious questions.
- Learn the laws. When we learn what the law is, we strengthen our resolve to observe it. When we study halachah, it takes on greater significance and meaning. Find a class or book geared toward your level of observance.Do not be discouraged if your past behavior wasn’t aligned with halachah. Judaism is not all or nothing, and G-d does not expect perfection. As our Creator, He knows our struggles and weaknesses. All He asks is that we do the best we can. Whatever mitzvah you are able to do, do. Whatever prohibition you are able to avoid, avoid.
No matter how far you have fallen, through repentance, you can pick yourself up and start fresh; that is the power of Teshuva.
- Stay away from temptation. When we are vigilant and stay away from temptation, we are usually able to refrain from sin. Determine the areas where you tend to stumble, and ask yourself what safeguard you can put in place to keep you away from temptation. Our environment plays a key role in either weakening or strengthening our commitment to Judaism. Make sure to surround yourself with positive influences and good role models. A great way of doing this is to go to a weekly or daily shiur (lecture), where you spend time with people who share your values.
- Make observance non-negotiable. Western society puts the individual on a pedestal and encourages us to do what feels good. With this paradigm, everything becomes negotiable. In Judaism, we realize the foolishness and destructiveness of living life based on passing whims. Instead, we put the Torah on a pedestal and unconditionally follow G-d’s guidelines. We need to make a conscious decision: Our commitment to avoid what our Creator has prohibited is non-negotiable; we are willing to do whatever is necessary to uphold His Torah and refuse to violate the law even at great personal sacrifice, when warranted. We can make our commitment to G-d so strong that it is as if we are physically incapable of violating His commandments.If a voice in your head urges you to sin, automatically respond, “That’s not an option. I refuse to violate G-d’s laws.” Then, think about something else. If your resolve to follow halacha has weakened, pick an area of observance to make non-negotiable – and refuse to cross that redline.
In addition to strengthening your own commitment to Judaism, reach out to those whose commitment has faltered or who were never committed to begin with. Accept them as they are, without being judgmental; if you were in their situation you might act the same way or worse. Take an interest in them, hear out their issues, and, if appropriate, recommend inspirational lectures, articles and books. Suggest rabbis and spiritual mentors they can talk to. Offer to learn with them, and/or invite them for a Shabbat meal. Bottom line: Show you care. Let them know that we, the Jewish people, are immeasurably richer because they are a part of us. We all need G-d’s help in our lives. If we want G-d to show us He cares about us – His children – we need to show Him we also care about His children; that we will not stand idly by as some of them fall through the cracks. Each one is too precious to ignore.
The Sages teach that a mitzvah done with difficulty is many times more beloved by G-d than one done with ease. The challenges of today test us in ways our people have never been tested before. By doing our best to overcome these new difficulties, we refine and elevate ourselves to new heights. With each mitzvah we do, and with each sin we avoid, we lift up ourselves and the entire Jewish nation, bringing us closer to G-d.
This article is a modified version of the original. Check out Yaakov’s new, free e-book, Living with God: How to Have a Fulfilling Life.
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Yaakov Weiland has an MSW from Fordham School of Social Service and lives in New York City. He has been published in The Jewish Press, Arutz-7and Aish.com. To read his other articles, please visit yaakovweiland.blogspot.com.”