A surprising Jewish teaching
What is the best way to deepen our spiritual commitment? What is the best to achieve anything?
My advice is to think small. Do the next little thing you can do. Take the next right action.
Learn one Hebrew a day if you want to improve your language skills. Start an annual biblical reading plan if you want to deepen your study.
Sometimes people will respond to my advice by saying, "Rabbi, I'm really serious. I want to go all in. What else should I do?"
My advice doesn't change. Starting small is almost always more effective and lasting than beginning with a big commitment.
Against the Grain
This perspective flies in the face of what we are often told. Modern gurus like Tony Robbins urge us to "take massive action."
But Jewish wisdom celebrates the small steps.
In the Talmud—the ancient book of Jewish laws and wisdom—the rabbis debate the most important verse of the Bible.
One rabbi says it is the Shema. We know that prayer. Jesus quoted it as well.
Taken from Deuteronomy 6:4, it reads, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” This is an excellent choice.
The Golden Rule
But another rabbi suggests that Leviticus 19:18 is the better choice. Known as the golden rule, it reads, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s hard to argue with this answer as well.
Finally, however, another sage gives a third option. He quotes an obscure verse from the book of Exodus, “Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight.” (Exodus 29:39)
This verse refers to the daily sacrifice offered by the priests every morning and every evening in the great Temple in Jerusalem.
What an odd choice! It’s like comparing a toaster instruction manual to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The third rabbi’s answer doesn’t even seem to be in the same league as the first two.
Yet, all the other rabbis quickly agreed with this answer!
Easier Said Than Done
What were they thinking? They recognized, I think, that small actions done consistently are the most reliable measure of faith.
It’s easy to be righteous every once in a while. It’s easy to say what we believe…or promise to live by the golden rule.
But it’s another thing to live our values every day. It's another thing to turn our lives into a continuous expression of faithfulness.
Our daily actions become our habits. Our habits become our lives. Our lives become a witness to God.