Of all of the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns, this has got to be the most interesting. Basically, the Rebbe asked us to redefine our environment.

A container is defined by what it contains. Take a carton of milk, for example. If it’s empty, you’ll say, “Pass the carton.” But if it contains even a little milk, you’ll say, “Pass the milk.” So too, your home is defined by the most important things inside it. And some of the most important items in your home (aside from those who live there, of course) are the Torah books lining the shelves and scattered about.

Just one of those books, the Rebbe said, is enough to redefine your entire environment. Your home is transformed from just another house to a shining source of wisdom.

It’s also an identity thing: the books we buy and place in our homes are one of the ways that establish who we are—for ourselves, and for those who visit our homes. So fill your home with Torah books, and create a Torah environment and identity for you and your family.

Lay a Trap for Yourself

There’s another obvious advantage to filling your home with Torah books: You or your kids might just pick one up and read a little of it. And then maybe even start asking some questions. Beware: this behavior may prove habit-forming.

Life in Books

Great authors put their mind, their personality, their very self, into their book. By the same token, say the sages, when G‑d authored the Torah, He put His essence and being into it. That’s why we treat Torah books with such respect: we kiss them if they fall to the ground, we are careful to always place them right side up, and we never use them for anything other than reading and study. In other words, we treat them like very special people.

Ever consider inviting Moses, King David, and the sages and prophets of the Great Assembly to come live in your house? And maybe Rabbi Akiva, Maimonides and the Baal Shem Tov while you’re at it? Watch out—they may take over the place.

It’s a Mitzvah

Following the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, we received 613 mitzvahs (divine commandments) through Moses. The last thing Moses told each one of us to do, just before we entered the Land of Canaan, was to write a Torah scroll. Since then, we each have an obligation to write our own scroll.

In the 13th century, Rabbeinu Asher noted that not everybody did this. He explained that now people fulfilled this mitzvah by buying Torah books, for themselves and others to learn from. Of course, it’s better if you can write or buy your own Torah scroll. Still, it’s exciting to know that each time you buy a Torah book, you are fulfilling the final mitzvah of the Torah.

Where Do I Start?

Start with the basics. Expand from there.

Here’s a starter’s guide. All of these are available in translation:

Basic Books

Chumash: a.k.a. “The Five Books of Moses.” G‑d dictates, Moses transcribes, and you get to have the book in your house.

Tehillim: a.k.a. “The Psalms of David.” The book your great-grandparents poured their hearts and tears into.

Siddur: a.k.a. “Jewish Prayer Book.” It took 120 sages and prophets to compose one way for all Jews to talk to one G‑d.

Additional Classic Volumes

Tanach: a.k.a. “Torah, Prophets and Writings.” Every prophecy and divinely inspired writing that the sages determined would be needed for every generation. Known in other circles as “The Bible.” (Make sure you get an authentic Jewish translation.)

Talmud: Voluminous compendium of discussion, debates and anecdotes that defined Jewish practice at the outset of the Diaspora. The meat and potatoes of Jewish learning.

Kitzur Shluchan Aruch: “Abridged Code of Jewish Law.” Highly popular guide to Jewish practice for the everyman, first published in Hungary in 1864 by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, a recognized authority on Jewish law.

Tanya: The most important work of chassidic teaching, blending and balancing the mystical and practical aspects of classic Jewish thought. Authored by the 18th-century chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

Two great online sources of Jewish books: