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Some Jews hesitate to start observing mitzvos. Due to their upbringing or a limited Jewish education, they feel too far removed from G-d to start observing mitzvos now and fear they will never be able to satisfy Judaism’s demands.

Every Jew, however, is capable of giving pleasure to G-d at his level. The Talmud (Kiddushin 49a) states that if a man betroths a woman “on condition that [he is] a tzaddik,” the betrothal is valid, even if he was a known sinner, because he may have repented in his mind, thereby becoming a tzaddik.

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The Or Zarua, when quoting this halacha, uses the phrase “tzaddik gamur – a perfect tzaddik.” In other words, even someone long steeped in disobedience of the Torah’s mitzvos is capable of turning himself around in a moment and becoming completely righteous. In a second, he can become a baal teshuvah who stands at a level so exalted that even those who have never sinned do not occupy (Talmud, Berachos 34b, and Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva 7:4).

A baal teshuvah is regarded so highly because he needs to overcome the negative side of his nature to which he is accustomed – often for many years – whereas a righteous person is already accustomed to following G-d’s will and does not have the same struggle. The Rambam states:

“A baal teshuvah should not imagine that he is distant from the high level of the righteous because of the sins he has done…but he is beloved and desired by the Creator as if he has never sinned. Not only that, but his reward is great for he has savored the taste of sin and has separated from it, conquering his yetzer.”

The Talmud (Yoma 86b) states that when a person’s teshuvah stems from love of G-d – as opposed to ulterior motives such as fear of punishment – his “deliberate sins become merits.” Why? Because the realization that his sins have distanced him from G-d arouses his desire to grow close to Him. In other words, the sins themselves inspire his return to G-d and are therefore now considered merits because they have wrought this dramatic change (Tanya, ch. 7).

The Rebbe applies the Talmudic statement about teshuvah from love to the Talmudic statement about a momentary mental resolution transforming a known sinner into a perfect tzaddik. Even a momentary thought of teshuvah that stems from love of G-d can transform all one’s previous grievous transgressions into merits!

Accordingly, no Jew need be intimidated by the imagined enormity of the leap from non-observance to observance. Moreover, every mitzvah a Jew performs creates a permanent bond with Hashem that can never be erased.

That’s why the Rebbe always urged us to encourage all Jews to observe even a single mitzvah, even if there’s no follow-up. For when a Jewish man dons kosher tefillin even once, or when a Jewish girl or woman lights Shabbos candles even once, the mitzvah establishes a union with Hashem Himself, causing infinite Divine pleasure.

The well-known Chabad mashpia Reb Shlomo Chayim Kesselman would relate an anecdote about the Alter Rebbe (1745-1812): Once, when followers visited him from a certain town, he asked about a resident who used to attend the Chabad shul there. The chassidim told him that the individual was considered the worst sinner in town, and his presence in shul was creating a bad reputation for the chassidim among their opponents. So although he didn’t do anything wrong while in shul, they decided to expel him from their shul to protect the Rebbe’s honor and that of Chassidus.

The Alter Rebbe told them, “You have no idea how much pleasure is caused Above when a Jew does even one fewer sin. I would overlook my honor and that of Chassidus as long as that Jew, by joining you in shul, would abstain from even one transgression!”

During these Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we should encourage our fellow Jews to re-establish their bond with G-d by doing even a single mitzvah. A Jewish soul may descend into this world for the sake of fulfilling even that single mitzvah. The Rebbe once said that even a Jew who only fasts on Yom Kippur is an observer of Torah and mitzvos!

We wish all our readers, together with the entire Jewish people, a gmar chasimah tovah.

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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the central Lubavitch Youth Organization and a weekly columnist for The Jewish Press.
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