With the High Holidays over, what’s next? You got that inspiration, maybe the rabbi touched your soul during a sermon. Maybe it was your grandmother’s chicken soup that warmed your heart. You ask yourself, “How do I make Judaism a more important part of my life?
A myriad of ideas run through your brain. Do I join the local JCC? Volunteer for a Jewish group? Book a trip to Israel?
All of these are good things, but please, don’t shortchange yourself with a superficial experience. The core of Judaism is deeper and more spiritual. It’s doing a mitzvah.
What’s a mitzvah? The basic meaning is “commandment.” G-d came down on Mt. Sinai over 3,300 years ago and told the Jewish people, “Hey, this is the way to live a life connected to me and filled with meaning. Call it life’s instruction manual.”
“Mitzvah” also literally translates as “connection.” Each mitzvah is like a strand in a rope that links the Creator and the Creation. The more mitzvahs one does, the stronger that connection is. Doing a mitzvah is the best way to bring down that abstract inspiration into something tangible and meaningful.
So which one should you start? With 613 Commandments (not all are practiced now because the Temple does not exist in Jerusalem, nor are we in the Jewish homeland of Israel) there are a lot of options.
Let’s look at it this way. There are two broad highways to cultivating a spiritual connection with G-d. The first is to take on the observance of a mitzvah upon yourself. It might be one that helps other people, like deciding to call your mother every day and ask how she’s doing fulfilling the commandment of honoring one’s parent or giving a portion of your income towards tzedakah, or charity, to help those in need and strengthen Jewish life. Other mitzvahs focus on one’s relationship with G-d, like donning Tefillin, reciting the Shema, or attending services on Shabbat. The goal of this highway is simple: hopefully it will trigger others, as the Talmud says, “One mitzvah causes another mitzvah.”
The first route is based on action, the second on using your brain, studying Torah. The scope of Jewish wisdom is vast, with long legal debates in the Talmud, beautiful allegorical lessons in the Midrash, profound philosophical ideas in the teachings of the Chassidic masters, and instructions on a way of life as explained in Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. For thousands of years Jews navigated the complexities of life with the Torah as their compass but sadly, most Jews today have a little knowledge of actual Judaism. Maybe they remember a Hebrew School experience that turned them off. So many read about the Jews of Hollywood or the latest Holocaust novel and call it Jewish study. Again, don’t shortchange yourself. Take a dive into authentic Jewish learning to see why it was so valued for generations. You don’t even have to know Hebrew or have a yeshiva background to tap into it—almost all the Jewish classics are translated into layman’s English.
So don’t let your inspiration fizzle out. Choose a route and let the High Holidays propel you forward to a stronger connection with G-d and a greater understanding of how Judaism can enrich your life.
rabbi eliezrie is A contributing writer To jlifemagazine. He can be reached at Chabad/Beth Meir HaCohen & firstname.lastname@example.org