How to Make a Lasting Transformation

How can it be that forty days after the Revelation at Sinai, B’nai Yisrael were already looking to worship other gods? After all, weren’t the first two of the Ten Commandments “I am the Lord” and “You shall have no other gods but me”?


Nehama Leibowitz points out that the Torah wants to teach us that unfortunately this can happen. Miracles can’t change human nature but they may “shake the human soul out of its every day concepts. However, miracles cannot in themselves effect a lasting transformation”.


One single religious experience cannot change B’nai Yisrael from idol worshippers to monotheists. A person would need to study the Torah in depth and focus their days on observing the mitzvoth in order to make such a complete change.


In Jerusalem today, we see many young people who were not observant going through the process of becoming Ba’alei Tshuva (returning to Judaism). The most effective way for this to work is for the Baal Tshuva to take on the mitzvoth slowly, spending time learning in depth what Judaism is all about. One who takes on all of the mitzvoth at once without understanding the meaning behind them may feel overwhelmed and could potentially revert back to how they were before becoming observant. The spark of having been in Jerusalem will not be enough to guide them if they have not studied the texts or if they don’t have books to use for reference and further study.  Unfortunately this often turns into the “all or nothing” mentality- when they were in Jerusalem they tried taking on everything, now that they are back home they feel that it is too much and they will stop observing altogether.


At Midreshet Devora, we help our students take on greater mitzvah observance slowly with the hope that the mitzvoth that they have taken on will remain with them and that they will continue striving to grow spiritually and religiously even when they return home. When a student is under the impression that they must pray for an hour each morning, they may be overwhelmed and decide that since it is too much for them, they will not bother praying at all. However, when a young woman is taught what her obligations are in prayer, why certain prayers were instituted, why women are obligated to recite prayers such as the Blessings on Torah Study, the Blessings thanking God that we woke up in the morning as well as the Shma and the Amida each day then she will understand why these prayers should be integrated into her daily routine. She will also have the skills and knowledge to add more prayers when she has more time and in this way she can take on more mitzvoth at a pace that she is comfortable with and to continue to grow spiritually.


Looking back, it seems that it was overwhelming for B’nai Yisrael who had just left Egypt and still had a slave mentality to be told to give up idol worship as well as take on so many other new commandments all at once.


As they slowly learned about each mitzvah in depth, it was easier for B’nai Yisrael to take the mitzvoth on one at a time. Yet when they were about to enter the Land of Israel with Yehoshua they had to be reminded about the challenges that they would face and the importance of not following the practices of the nations of the land.


Instead of criticizing Am Yisrael for making the Golden Calf, maybe we would be better off looking at ourselves, finding the weaknesses that we need to work on and seeing how we can make ourselves more committed to Torah observance as a Tikkun (correction) for The Sin of the Golden Calf.