I’d been on the job for just a few weeks when one of our members hesitantly approached me after services: “Rabbi,” he began, “may I ask you a question in halachah?”

Yes! I was ready! This was what I’d entered the rabbinate for. This was why I’d spent years attending international yeshivahs and studying for my semichah ordination. Ask me your halachic question, please.

“Rabbi,” This was what I’d entered the rabbinate forhe continued, “you know where I live, and you know how I get to shul on Shabbat. For the last few months, whenever I’ve come to shul, I have started to wear tzitzit under my shirt. Wearing them makes me feel good inside.

“However, this morning, as I was driving to shul, I started to wonder whether I wasn’t acting hypocritically. Should a Shabbat-breaker like me really be wearing such a holy garment as tzitzit? Rabbi, what do you think—should I stop wearing them?”

I’ve got to admit, at first I was a tiny bit disappointed. This was the halachic question I was waiting for? So much for my rosy vision of engaging in an in-depth analysis of some weighty issue of Jewish law. The answer seemed so obvious: of course he shouldn’t take his tzitzit off. Every mitzvah is an independent path to G‑dliness, and the neglect of one commandment should not preclude the fulfillment of another.

However, one of the most useful pieces of advice I ever received in life was a favorite saying of my father’s: “Before you answer a question, ask yourself, ‘Why is this person asking you this question at this time?’”

Thankfully, before I could blithely shoot off a response, I checked my initial impulse and gave his question the attention and respect it deserved. On reflection, I realized that he wasn’t really asking me “a halachic question”; he could have worked out the halachah easily enough for himself. He was really looking for an opportunity to explore his feelings of unease at his current unstructured approach to Judaism, and looking for reassurance that it was all right to take his own time and follow his own path to observance.

My new congregant and I spent a fair bit of time chatting with each other and trying to understand each other better. I learned far more about his past relationship with Judaism, as well as his current needs and desires, than I would have if I had just answered his question without giving him the time he needed to unburden.

One insight that seemed to give him some comfort was that the reason we wear tzitzit is so that “when you see them, you will remember all the commandments of the L‑rd, to perform them” (Numbers 15:39). Wearing tzitzit is supposed to remind us of the other mitzvahs. You can even say they’re supposed to make us feel guilty. They’re doing their job!Mitzvahs are addictive

Mitzvahs are addictive; if you do some, you’ll be tempted to do more. Obviously, it’s unwise and unhelpful to do too much too fast, but the natural temptation is to do more. What my friend was mistaking for unease at hypocrisy was really his conscience urging him to take the next step on his journey to Judaism, and stop driving to shul. You don’t stop wearing tzitzit because they’re doing what they’re supposed to; rather, you ready yourself to take the next step that you’re supposed to.

There is no shame in doing a mitzvah, and no reason to desist just because you’re not yet fully ready to take on another. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Every step is just another stage towards “performing all the commandments of the L‑rd” and readying oneself to listen to G‑d’s message when He calls.