So I walk into a random office and ask a guy to put on tefillin. Perhaps just to get rid of me, he agrees. I strap him up, help him read Shema, shake his hand and leave. In and out in 3 minutes.

I’m at a circumcision. During the inevitable ten-minute delay waiting for the baby to be sent down to the ceremony, I persuade the nervous father to put on tefillin. I explain to him the connection between circumcision and tefillin, which are both referred to in the Torah as a sign of our connection to G‑d, and he confides to me that this is the first time he’s worn tefillin since his bar mitzvah.

Afterwards, while the guests are eating, I circulate through the crowd offering the family and friends their own chance to do the mitzvah. Many are happy for the opportunity, while some need a bit more persuasion. I’ve found that the best way to overcome their initial hesitation is to enlist partners and children to the cause. Almost every young lady wants her guy to do something Jewish, and which parent could resist a sweet little 3-year-old lisping, “Daddy, please show me how you put on those funny black boxes, and let me answer Amen to your blessing”?

But what have we gained from guilt-tripping a guy into tefillin? It’s just a one off, with no guarantee of any followup. Is he any more religious, committed or switched on than before I started nudging him?

At least when you walk into someone’s office, or chat to them at a function, there is a chance of building a longer relationship for the future; indeed, many of my now closest friends started off as chance acquaintances. But what about when you stop someone on a street corner or in a shopping mall, and tie him up? That’s really hit and miss. While I appreciate that the soul of a Jew is shining through for those few moments, I sometimes wonder why we bother putting him through his paces in the first place.

This question was once posed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe by a not-yet-religious individual. The Rebbe had compared adding extra mitzvahs into one’s daily routine to wearing a tie, which adds beauty and splendor to one’s whole ensemble. In response, the man asked what seems to be an ingenious question. He pointed out that the Rebbe’s analogy would hold true only for someone already wearing clothing; however, were a naked person to don a tie, rather than looking better, he’d look completely ridiculous.

The obvious import of the query is to question the value of any one mitzvah when performed by an otherwise unobservant person. When someone does nothing else Jewish and has no intention to change, what is the point of adorning oneself with a frilly appendage? It seems not only hypocritical, but foolish too.

The Rebbe agreed that a naked man wearing a tie might indeed look silly, but contended the very act of putting a tie would probably wake him up to the fact that he’s naked in the first place. Sometimes the incongruity of being simultaneously underdressed but over-accessorized can lead you to rush off to cover yourself up.

Aside for the intrinsic standalone value that each mitzvah has, mitzvah observance can also be contagious. Agreeing to opt in, even just once, can have far-reaching effects. There have been untold thousands of Jews who have made permanent changes in their lives for the better, just because they agreed to try it once.