“For this commandment that I command you today, it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in the heavens, so you could say ‘Who can possibly go up to the heavens for us and take it for us, then we’ll hear and perform it!?’ Nor is it across the sea, so you could say ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, and then we’ll hear it, and perform it!?’ Rather, the Torah is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to perform it.” (Deut. 30:11-1)
Before Moses dies, he exhorts the Jewish people to follow God’s laws and assures them that the task is not too difficult for them to accomplish. Huh?? Living a Torah life requires extensive knowledge as well as significant sacrifice. Especially for those of us who did not grow up religious, the task is indeed difficult! How can Moses say that it’s “not hidden from you and it is not distant” when it often feels impenetrable and beyond our reach?
Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883), the influential founder of the Mussar movement of Torah-based self-improvement, provides a different perspective. Yes, those new to Jewish practice can feel discouraged. Yes, even those who’ve been religious their whole lives find this time of year daunting, as we try to impress God before Rosh Hashanah so that we’ll be inscribed for another year of life.
Rav Salanter says we’re looking at teshuva (repentance) all wrong. We want God to bless us so we try to make big changes. However, when we bite off more than we can chew, we often wind up chewing nothing. Rav Salanter tells us to focus on small things, things that we know we can achieve. Don’t try to undertake the entirety of spiritual transformation all at once. Instead, take one manageable step after another.
If you’re a Jew who isn’t currently observant, here are some simple ways to start incorporating Jewish practice into your life:
– Say thank you to God every morning before you get out of bed.*
– Turn off your phone Friday evening until Saturday night.*
– Don’t eat milk and meat together.*
– Learn Torah at least one minute each day.*
These goals are within your reach and will infuse your life with holiness!
* Modeh Ani morning prayer:
* Learn about Shabbat:
* What is Kosher:
* Great resource for online learning:
Image: Sunrise at the Kineret (Sea of Galilee)