Saturday, October 1, 2022

You’ve Fallen But You Can Get Up: A Guide for Guys on How to Strengthen Your Observance

As religious guys get older, many continue to grow in their connection to Judaism, deepening their commitment to learning, davening and observance. At the same time, it’s not uncommon for some guys to fall spiritually. It might be a slight decline in religious observance and Torah learning or it might be a complete break from Orthodox Judaism. Single guys are often more prone to this but it can happen to married guys as well. It is often not a willful or theological decision. It’s just that temptations, distractions and social pressures slowly chip away at their observance, unless they take proactive measures.

No matter how far one has fallen, no one is too far gone. Everyone can do teshuva and repent. The main act of repentance is to just stop doing the sin or restart doing the mitzvot that one has lapsed in. Do not wallow in the past. Leave regret for Yom Kippur. The rest of the year, just focus on doing the best you can and starting fresh after a setback.

Sometimes a person’s religious observance lessens due to stress or emotional issues. Enhancing your physical and psychological health will make it easier to increase your observance. Three ways of doing that are exercising (including building muscle mass), eating healthy and getting enough sleep.

The most challenging part of increasing one’s observance is often changing one’s mindset. Instead of focusing on the negative and thinking of yourself as a lapsed Jew, focus on the positive and think of yourself as a Jew ready to grow in his observance, at a pace that is doable for you. As you progress, you will then think of yourself as an observant Jew who sometimes slips up, a work in progress like the rest of us.

It is often much easier than anticipated to get back to an observant lifestyle. Just making a few changes can fairly quickly get you back on track. Judaism is about having a relationship with God, and like any relationship it is not all or nothing. There is nothing hypocritical about doing some mitzvot (or some of the steps below) and not yet doing others. Someone who asks, “Why should I eat Kosher if I”m not keeping Shabbat?” is like a guy who asks, “If I can’t stop smoking, why should I take my diabetes medication?” Whatever you are able to do to enhance your spiritual health, do it and do it now! There isn’t going to be a better time. Do your best, and God will help you come back home. Soon, it’ll be like you never left.

Here is an 8 step plan to get back on track. Even doing one step is a tremendous accomplishment. Do not fall into the trap of seeing a step that you think you will never be able to do and discarding all of them. Also do not fall into the trap of doing just a few of the steps and thinking, “I’m good. I did enough. I can stop now.” A person’s Judaism and connection to God is never stagnant: it is either getting stronger or weaker. Be among those who are getting stronger and keep moving forward on this journey.

8 Steps to Becoming Observant Again:

1. Find a rabbi. Have a rabbi (or at least a mentor who is learned) who you can ask for personalized guidance about increasing your observance and dealing with life challenges. There are many wonderful rabbis out there, ask around until you find one you connect with.

2. Spend time with like minded people. Make sure the people you socialize with do not bring you down or sabotage your spiritual growth. It can be very challenging to be an island of observance all by yourself. Seek out social connections to give you support and encouragement. You can meet new people through mutual friends, Torah classes or in Shul. For those who are single, be selective who you date. Before saying yes to a girl, find out where she’s holding religiously and if she’s open to having the type of Jewish home you want for your children. (When in doubt about this or about applying any of the steps, speak to your rabbi or mentor.) Once you are living an observant lifestyle, you will be able to start dating high quality religious girls who will only date religious guys. (As part of your spiritual growth, upgrade your language and drop the profanity; it gives people the wrong impression about you and is unbecoming of the type of person you now are.)

3. Wear tzitzis. It’s an easy mitzvah and they sell very comfortable ones. When you’re ready, wear a head covering. By wearing tzitzis and a head covering, you make a statement to yourself and to those around you that there is a God who created the world and whose guidance you follow as best you can. (Women make this statement by dressing modestly.)

4. Eat kosher. If you’re eating healthy anyway, you won’t have to cut out that much from your diet. Yes, it’s more expensive, but the same God who gave you enough money to afford your current expenses, will give you enough money so you can eat kosher.

5. Study Torah. You don’t need to be observant to benefit from Torah study. Learn with a study partner once or twice a week or preferably daily, a section of the Torah you enjoy learning. It might be Talmud, a commentary on the Parsha or Chassidus. You can find a study partner either through a local Kollel, Shul or through If possible, listen to a Torah podcast or read a sefer daily, even if only for a few minutes, perhaps during your commute or while you exercise. Include in your study the basic laws of Judaism, as there is much more to Judaism than what is included here. Two works to consider are Halacha 24/7/12 by Rabbi Aharon E. Marcus and Shaarei Halachah (It’s in English) by Rabbi Zeev Greenwald. Even if you are not currently observant but have a background in studying Talmud, consider learning the Daf Yomi. There are many wonderful teachers available, you can listen to their classes for free at or find a local class. Finishing the entire Talmud in 7 ½ years is an amazing and transformative accomplishment that you will be proud of for the rest of your life. See, “Mining the Depths of Torah Wisdom.”

6. Put on tefillin daily. Preferably also say Brachos, Shemah and Shemona Esrei with your tefillin on. When you are ready to build from there, say more tefillot during Shacharis and/or start reciting Mincha and then Maariv. Find a Shul you are comfortable going to on Shabbos, feel free to come late in the beginning and then gradually increase going to Shul to once a day and when possible, for all three tefillos. (Not going to Shul does not make you non observant, do the best you can). As part of davening, try to spend a few minutes each day speaking to God in your native language, preferably alone and outloud. This will help you build a personal connection with God. Music can be a powerful tool to help us uncover our inner yearning for God. Try the music of Shlomo Carlebach, Eitan Katz or any of the other popular Jewish composers.

7. Keep Shabbos. This is not all or nothing; observe what you can and increase from there. Many have commented how spending time away from their phone and computer is very freeing. In terms of what to do on Shabbos: find a Shul you feel comfortable going to, even if only Friday night or Shabbos morning. Go to places for meals where they host an authentic Shabbos seudah with song and Torah thoughts or host one yourself, get together with friends, periodically go away for Shabbos, set up to learn with a study partner, go for a walk and gather a pile of books to read that you’ve always wanted to read but never seemed to have the time. Now you have the time.

8. Observe Yichud and Negiah. As with everything else, this is not all or nothing; do the best you can to observe the laws of Yichud, not secluding yourself with a girl who is forbidden to you or touching her (Negiah). For those who are married, speak to your rabbi about observing the laws of Family Purity. For those who are single, speak to your rabbi or mentor about ensuring that both you and your date are on the same page on this issue. Besides for the spiritual benefits of following these laws, it will also give you greater clarity as to who is a more compatible life partner; your judgment will not be clouded by already being in a physical relationship.

Are you giving something up by becoming more observant? Yes, but what you gain in return makes it totally worthwhile. The effort you put into practicing authentic Judaism will yield priceless returns.

The Torah elevates and refines a person. The mitzvot enable us to connect to God, both in this world and even more so in the world to come. The Torah is also our Creator's guidebook on how to live a satisfying and meaningful life (see, “3 Fundamental Mitzvot).”

Even though God gave us the Torah for our benefit, by observing His Torah we express our appreciation for all that He does for us. God gives us intelligence, health, money, a family, a roof over our heads, food to eat and clothing to wear. A person is not guaranteed any of those things. There are people who lack intelligence, have incapacitating health issues, are in debt, alone in the world, homeless and without sufficient food or clothing. If you are not one of those people and have most or all of those things, your life is overflowing with blessing!

Pick something to do on a regular basis to express your heartfelt appreciation to your Father in Heaven. Let God know that His Torah is important to you and that you appreciate all that He does for you.

You may ask, “Maybe I'll put on tefillin today, but what's the point if I may not put them on tomorrow?” Each time you do a mitzvah or refrain from doing a sin brings you everlasting merit and brings your Father in Heaven pleasure, even if you stumble the very next day! You may ask, “What pleasure do I bring God? There are many people who are much more observant than me, what value am I to God?” Reb Noson of Breslov addressed this point in a letter he wrote (Healing Leaves: Prescriptions for inner strength, meaning and hope by Breslov Research Institute), “The essence of God’s greatness is that the very person who is most distant from Him and most attached to physicality can and should serve Him. Such service is God’s greatest pleasure and delight!”

Some observe mitzvot because that is what they have been doing their entire life and they never tasted sin. While they will be rewarded for staying away from sin, what you do for God is unique. When you do a mitzvah, you proclaim, “Even though I know the allure of sin, nevertheless, I still choose to do this mitzvah!” That brings God tremendous pleasure.

You may ask, “If I start keeping some mitzvot, I’m admitting that I was wrong to stop observing them.” Are you perfect and never make mistakes? King Solomon taught (Ecclesiastes 7:20), “…there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he [always] does good and never sins.” We all make mistakes. We all have challenges that we struggle to overcome. Only a fool is unwilling to change course even after he realizes that he is heading in the wrong direction. You are no fool. You lost your way and God is giving you the opportunity to come home. No one knows how much time they will have in this world, grab that opportunity now with both hands!

Pick one of the above steps to start with. Choose the one that is easiest for you or that you are most motivated to do. There will be setbacks, but after each one, begin anew with a fresh start.

Right now, before you get distracted by something else, open your calendar and write in each month a different step to focus on. During that month, do something tangible and doable related to that step (or work at whatever pace your mentor recommends). After each month, carry over the gains from the previous month and begin the new month with a fresh start. Once you’ve gone through all the steps, choose which specific steps need more strengthening and focus on them during the coming months. Soon, your life will be enriched and guided by the wisdom of the Torah. No matter how stormy life may be, a strong connection to God will be your anchor.

Even if right now, you choose not to increase your observance at all, at least start learning Torah. Eicha Rabbah (Petichta 2) writes, “We have found that the Holy One blessed be He overlooked idolatry, forbidden relations, and murder, but did not overlook disdain of the Torah, as it is stated: “...For what reason did the land perish?” (Jeremiah 9:11). It is not written here that it was because of idolatry, forbidden relations, and murder; rather, “...Because they have forsaken My Torah…” (Jeremiah 9:12).”

At all costs, do not forsake the Torah!

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