Being a Good Jew
I am 50 years old and am on a path back to the Judaism that I was raised with, but unfortunately abandoned for so many years. I am asking lots of people this question, and now I'll ask you: How do I become a better Jew?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Abraham was the first Jew because he promoted the idea of God in the world. So by raising awareness of God in your life - and inspiring others to do the same - you become a better Jew.
Let's say that you are walking down a street when suddenly you notice the most beautiful apples dangling from a tree. On a sign hanging from a rusty nail are the hand-painted words, "Free apples. Pick and eat all you want!"
What are you going to do? Eat them of course! But how are you going to eat them?
Are you going to take ten apples and gobble them up as fast as you can?
The "gobble" approach may give immediate satisfaction, but gluttony doesn't make one closer to God. Try another approach.
Why not try eating the apple very slowly so that every little tiny molecule explodes a burst of flavor into your mouth so that you swoon with delight from the terrific flavor?
This approach, is an excellent way to notice how God is in everything.
In truth, we would be able to see how whole world is filled with God if we took the time and experienced everything deeply. Say to yourself, "How did God pack so much juice into this apple? Why does it taste so sweet? The colors are so bright! All in a waterproof cover! And all growing out of a piece of wood! Could this apple exist by a fluke of nature? No. There must be a God!"
This approach is great if you have a free hour to eat one apple.
Fortunately, there is another approach that works. And that is to say a blessing!
When one says a blessing, he elevates something mundane and makes it spiritual. In other words, an apple has many different nutrients that can nourish a person's body, and give him great enjoyment. But without a blessing, only the body gains nourishment, while the soul is left screaming that it is malnourished. A blessing, however, gives the food a spiritual component as well.
When one recognizes the need to make everything he or she does into a spiritual experience, automatically one notices God even in ordinary things, and thus, one becomes a better Jew!
The truth is that all 613 mitzvahs of the Torah help focus our energies and elevate our actions. For example, our work can become a holy activity when a percentage of our earnings are donated to Tzedakah. So too, Shabbat elevates time, Kashrut elevates food, the land of Israel elevates space, etc.
Perhaps I could recommend two excellent books:
"Gateway to Judaism" by Rabbi Mordechai Becher
"To Be a Jew" by Chaim Halevi Donin