I

n our last column we learned from a supposedly observant Jew, who was in a hurry to daven Minchah with a minyan, how not to be a religious Jew. Today we learn from a nonreligious non-Jew how to be a religious Jew.

A certain rough-hewn professional football coach, who professes no religion and attends no religious services, was being interviewed. As one of the winningest coaches in the game, could he share with us how he was preparing his team for the coming season? Any special ideas or game plans? His reply: “Nothing spectacular. Just do the fundamentals. If we do the basics like we’re supposed to, we’ll be okay: block, tackle, execute assignments, no fumbles, no mental lapses, good defense, stay alert, avoid mistakes, give your utmost effort, think. Above all, we need to study the playbook and know all its details. Nothing fancy, just the basics, the fundamentals.”

Reading about this coach as his season approached, I thought of our own new season: the Yamim Noraim. The parallels are, l’havdil, obvious: What does G-d expect from us? Nothing spectacular, just the basics, just the fundamentals. Do the mitzvos properly. Execute our assignments. Be alert, think about the consequences of fumbles and mistakes, no mental lapses, be aware of our every action, block out all side distractions, defend ourselves against all kinds of temptations, give our utmost in tzedakah and chesed, and stay alert to the presence of G-d all around us. Nothing dramatic, just the fundamentals: don tefillin, check mezuzos, observe taharas hamishpachah, intensify love and kindness, daven with a full heart — and above all, study the Playbook, better known as the Torah.

A verse comes to mind: Moshe, in his farewell address to the people, asks, in Devarim 10:12-13: “What does the L-rd require of you? Ki-im l’yirah es Hashem — only to fear the L-rd your G-d, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul… to keep His mitzvos and statutes which I command you this day, for your benefit.” Just the basics, just the fundamentals.

The Talmud (Berachos 33b) asks the inevitable question: Is fearing the L-rd so simple a matter that Moshe can refer to it as ki im — only? And they answer: for Moshe it was a simple matter.

Which does not answer the question, for it might have been simple for Moshe to fear the L-rd, but we are not Moshe, and Moshe is addressing ordinary people who are not his equal.

Perhaps Moshe Rabbeinu is posing a challenge: to work toward that time when someday we can reach that level where fear and awe before G-d is a fundamental quality, not very unusual but very natural.

All this is a crucial lesson for those of us who, particularly in this season, are striving to renew connections with our Creator. It does not require heroic measures. We are not required to climb up to the heavens, or to reach prophetic insights, or attain the wisdom of the Sages. Rather, it requires attention to fundamentals: As Moshe himself says in Devarim 30:11, “This commandment which I present to you today is not too wondrous for you, nor too distant. It is not in the heavens… nor beyond the seas for you to have to fetch it… Rather, it is very near to you, in your mouths and in your hearts to do.” Reach for the basics, because in the final analysis, the basics are the most spectacular. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 724)