How To Easily Become More Observant:
First of all you have to realize that each of us is on our own spiritual ladder. Everyone is on different rungs of the ladder. The hardest step is the first step, just starting. Don’t worry about where anyone else is on their ladder, just concentrate on where you are. Don’t look back. You can’t change anything that has already happened. Remember the Talmudic statement that “a mitzvah begets another mitzvah”. Also, remember that “mitzvah” does not mean a good deed, although that is how it is mostly used. A mitzvah is a commandment from G-d.
Once you start your journey up the ladder remember a few things. All of us have periods where we may miss the mark. Don’t say then, OK, I failed. Just start over again. Also do not say that if I can’t observe all of the mitzvot then I won’t observe any. Do it in baby steps. Don’t try to do everything at once. Dennis Prager has a saying “not yet”. If someone asks you if you keep kosher and you don’t then don’t say “no”, say “not yet, and mean it. It is much easier to perform a mitzvah when you are reasonably comfortable about performing it. Ok, lets get started!
1. Buy and put up a mezzuzah:
In order for the mezzuzah to be kosher it has to have kosher paper in it. Most mezzuzot (plural of mezzuzah) do not come with this paper and you have to ask for it. The berachah for affixing a mezzuzah is baruch....likboah mezzuzah. For a further discussion go here. Just remember that mezzuzot are not affixed to bathrooms or storage rooms.
2. Buy a tallit (this is self explanatory). There are many varieties of length and color.
3. Light Shabbat and holiday candles:
There are many links on our site to sites that can discuss this in detail.
4. Go to shul:
Start by going to a Friday evening Service. These are usually short with a lot of English so you won’t feel threatened. Do go shul hopping. Find one you like. Start by going at least once a month, then gradually increase the number of times you attend. If you live in the West Ventura County area or the San Fernando Valley there are some listed on the Links page
5. Say the Modeh Ani Lefanecha prayer immediately on arising in the morning. The prayer is "Modeh ani lefanecha melech chai v’kayam, shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemla, rabbah emunatecha." “ I offer thanks to You, living and eternal, King, for You have mercifully restored my soul in me; Your faithfulness is great."
6. Say a b'racha (blessing) over a "snack". The link will take you to a site containing many blessings. Pick one at first. After you are comfortable with it pick another. Don't worry for now about the blessings after eating. You are just doing baby steps. Don't try to memorize them all or all the laws because you will just set yourself up to fail.
7. Buy a "luach". No, a luach isn't the latest Japanese hybrid automobile. It is a Jewish calendar. You need it so you'll know when the holidays and fast days are. You don't want to miss a holiday because you inadvertently scheduled a vacation at the wrong time. In addition to the dates of the holidays a luach will inform you of the Torah and Haftarah readings each week, candle lighting times, and much more.
8. "Asay lecha Rav" (literally, "Make yourself a teacher") from Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6. Find a Rabbi to answer your questions about Judaism, about religious practices, and to guide you on your way. You can start by asking why it says "make" yourself a teacher instead of "find" or "acquire".
9. Say the "Tefilat
Haderech" (Traveller's Prayer) before going on a trip.
The above should get you started. The above items are mainly things you can do without having to spend too much money or involving putting any strain on yourself. More items will be added in the future.
More Advanced Steps:
10. Go to morning Services. Most synagogues have a morning minyan. Some meet daily but since the Torah is read during the week on Mondays and Thursdays many have a minyan on those days. They usually start around 7:00 AM or so and last about an hour to an hour and a half. Some serve a light snack afterwards.
11. Buy a pair of Tefillin. A good pair will cost you around $400-$450. You can even get a more expensive pair if you wish. You should get them from a reliable store. You can ask a Rabbi for a reference. Be sure that you try on both the head and arm portions and that they fit you properly and you are shown how to put them on and take them off. Since they cost so much you want to get your money’s worth out of them. They are worn during most morning Services except for Shabbat, Festivals and certain other days. Ask your Rabbi to tell you the minhag (religious custom) practiced in your particular synagogue.
12. Observe Shabbat. This is one of the biggies and may take some negotiation with your spouse if you are married. We belong to a Conservative synagogue and I attend Chabad synagogues on a regular basis. My wife likes to attend the Conservative synagogue on Friday night, which permits you to drive to Services on Shabbat, and I attend those Services with her but Saturday is strictly observed. I walk to the Chabad shul, she sometimes attends with me. I don’t turn on or off lights nor do I watch TV, answer the phone or go on my computer. We start Shabbat with candle lighting and Kiddush and end it with Havdallah. I try to observe as many of the restrictions of Shabbat as I can. It is still a learning experience!
One of the things I have done is to have six timers (Intermatic SS8L) installed in my home which turn my lights on and off at set times and which can be used manually on days other than Shabbat and Yom Tov. I also have installed in bathrooms and separate commode areas portable fluorescent lights which I turn on before Shabbat/Yom Tov and I turn them off when Shabbat/Yom Tov is over. They can be powered by 8 batteries but I found that the batteries do not last long so I bought 12v transformers that attach to them and leave them on all during Shabbat/YomTov. I also purchased three Kosher lamps, which are available from Artscroll and are placed on night stands. These are on all of Shabbat/Yom Tov but have an ingenious method for blocking the light when you wish, all in accordance with Halachah. I also unscrew the light bulb in the refrigerator before Shabbat/Yom Tov and replace it when it is over.
12. Keep Kosher. Another biggie but unless you live in a major metropolitan area with many kosher markets and restaurants this may be a little hard on you although Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, Albertsons and some Costco warehouse stores now carry kosher food products. I suggest easing into it. Start with the Biblical injunction against mixing dairy and meat (there goes cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza) and avoid eating anything specifically “treif” (e.g. pork, lobster, shrimp, etc.). I try and eat vegetarian or dairy when I go out to eat. You can increase your kashrut observance as you feel comfortable. By the way, the obligation to keep kosher involves more than just eating kosher foods. Your Rabbi can help you with this. Also, the laws of kashrut are a “chok”, a law for which there is no apparent reason. Many people try to give reasons for it, mainly so they can not observe it, like it is for health reasons. My answer to that is “Oh, so G-d only wanted the Jewish people to be healthy and not the non-Jews”. The reason we are to observe kashrut is because G-d commanded it, not because we understand why it was commanded.
May all of us go from strength to strength as we increase our spiritual observance. The Torah tells us that we cannot pick and choose which mitzvot we are to observe. I believe, however, that as long as we perform mitzvot with the knowledge and goal of increasing our observance by performing more and more mitzvot, and not saying "OK, I'm performing such and such mitzvot but no more", that HaShem will look kindly on us and help us in our quest of becoming more observant. More to come......