I came across a great quote today that stuck in my head.
My manager at work is one of those people who is naturally intellectually curious about life in general, not just his specialty and he finds my observance fascinating. I enjoy our conversations because his questions challenge me to better define and articulate portions of Judaism that I don’t even really think about, that just seem natural to me. One of the ongoing themes of some of the questions I am asked both by him and by others is, “What does this all do for you?”
It’s interesting that it’s the opposite of what I spend the most time studying in Tanya class, which is, “What does this all do for Hashem?
In Tanya class, at least this year, we’ve been intensely focused on studying about how the smallest mitzvah, the smallest act of us reaching out to Him and seeking a relationship with Him moves Him and brings Him pleasure. We talk about the great spiritual distances Hashem will reach through to us if we even make the slightest movement to Him. Mostly, we talk about mitzvos being a love language, a way of connecting in a relationship that goes so far beyond what we can perceive in this life.
Outside of class, though, I’m most often asked to explain what I get out of living this way, what’s the payoff for missing out on so much in order to be observant?
Which brings me back to the quote above. Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.
It’s no mistake that this quote comes from Leonard Cohen, an Orthodox Jew and famous songwriter. A fundamental part of observant life is the idea that doing mitzvos, even when we may not understand any logical reason for them, has a power to refine a person and bring them closer to the person Hashem meant them to be. Every time I walk past the non-kosher pizza my coworkers are eating to grab my kosher lunch from the refridgerator, each time I say a blessing before I eat, each time I give tzedekah to someone less fortunate, these things slowly chip away at everything that stands between me and the person I was intended to be.
Modern psychology actually supports this idea.
As recently as 2011, research into the idea of willpower revealed that willpower is not some static character trait, but something that can be increased like a muscle through use. Each day, we wake up with a certain amount of self-control, like the fixed amount of miles I am capable of running today, at this point in my running training. However, over time, by using that willpower each day, it can be built up so that a person has more available every day, similar to how a runner over time builds up to being able to run many more miles in a single day than when they began.
Each day, being an observant Jew in progress challenges me in different ways to stay present and mindful and to make choices based on a certain code of behavior versus what is easiest or quickest. Slowly, over time, many of those choices become easier and easier. I’m not lying when I tell friends or family that I’m rarely tempted by their non-kosher food. Over time, it simply began to feel irrelevant to me. The first few times I had a craving for something, those were hard not to give into. Over time, though, the craving loses its power over me.
I strive to be more sensitive to the people around me, more connected with my Creator, and more intentional in my life in general and I feel like living a life centered on Torah helps me with all these.
Even if it didn’t, though, it should still be enough that it makes my Life Coach so happy to see me following His sage advice and that this is the way we connect in small moments throughout my day, love notes in acts of obedience to a will beyond my own.
Rather than viewing this as another “fake it until you make it” version, I prefer to think of it more as remembering who I am on a deeper level than the one the world shows me. The mitzvos are more actions that remind me of a forgotten truth…that I am more than just flesh and blood and I have more to live up to than just what this world asks of me. I may not be there yet, but by continuing to try to act more like those who’ve come before me and laid out a path, I hope to bring myself closer to their example and by that, find what’s hidden within me that I was sent here to reveal to this world.
I can’t think of a much better reward.