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on mitzvot

I’ve been reading this book which Aliza Hausman recommended to me (thank you, Aliza!) and enjoying it so much. The Baal Teshuva Survival Guide.

One of the things I like about it is that the author recommends easing into certain things at your own pace and not going whole hog into observance that you won’t be able to maintain. She speaks of becoming baal teshuva as a process, one that sometimes takes years. And from where I’m sitting right now? I can see it taking years.

I live in the sticks. I have to drive to shul on Shabbos. I am covered in tattoos. I do not have a kosher kitchen and I mix meat and dairy all the time. There’s over 600 mitzvot to keep and I’m starting with ONE. I may never keep them all. And that’s OK. The point seems more to be, trying to consistently do better.

There are some that are easy. Tzedaka, that’s easy. I did charity before, charity is not a problem to continue. Tikkun Olam, well, sure, I try to do things that are world improving and healing and ramping that up as I go is a joy. Dressing more modestly, noooo problem. Trust me, it was a relief to start wearing skirts and slightly longer sleeves. I love to rock hats and scarves. Those are easy.

There are some that aren’t so easy but they’re not hard either. Like, not badmouthing someone who has really done me some harm, not carrying gossip. I try, and honestly I know better and I’m a pretty conscientious person, so, eh, it’s rare that it happens. It is more like a mental nudge will suffice if I get to the edge of that precipice.

For me, the hard thing right now is not eating pork. I admit it. I love pork. I love pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, bacon, pancetta… oh goodness do I love me some pig. And I made the commitment to stop eating it (and shrimp) when I decided to become more observant. So far, so good. I’ve had one incident where about 3 slices into a pizza I realized that “pepperoni” and “sausage” are actually “pork” and at that point, you know, I just finished the slice I was holding and didn’t eat any more. Made a note on the pizza menu next to that particular pizza (my favorite, boo!) so I remember next time, not to get it. Same thing happened at a sushi bar, about 2/3 of the way through a tempura roll, when I realized that “tempura shrimp” is “shellfish” and therefore now forbidden to me. Shrimp is actually easy. Crab and lobster, another story.

See, there’s the thing. It’s hard. I get seriously depressed at the thought of going to my favorite BBQ restaurant and not getting to chow down on a slab of ribs or never going there again. There isn’t a lot of kosher Jewish food that makes me feel as happy as BBQ ribs. Giving this stuff up? It hurts. I’m not going to take on anything else until I’ve got the pork thing pretty much down. Until I can go to Yard House and the crab/lobster/artichoke dip doesn’t whisper my name.

It is easier to keep kosher if you have never tasted bacon or ribs, had a tempura prawn or a cheeseburger. If you are used to rocking separate dishes and know where kosher restaurants are. It is easier. I’m not going to say “easy” because keeping kosher is NOT EASY even for those who’ve done it from birth? But it’s easier to keep on walking if you don’t know what you’re missing. If those ribs are calling your name? It takes some serious fortitude to close your ears and keep going, I am just saying. It is very much a day by day thing. I might one day try to justify that slab of pork ribs. Heck, I am trying to justify it right now. I am really struggling with it.

I’m kind of thinking that I’ll pick a mitzvah (or two) each Yom Kippur and add it to my list of stuff I am going to try to observe and do in the coming year. If I master it, then great, add another. This year, pork and shellfish continue to grapple with my willpower. I’ve got my hands full. I’m not adding to the list.

And my new book seems to think that that’s just fine.

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