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I know some people who would like to start keeping shabbos but they don't know all the laws and they don't know where to start. already they do kabbolas shabbos and the friday night seudah with kiddush and birkas hamozon, but they want to start keeping the 39 melochos.

where should they begin? are there any melochos that are more important to keep than others? maybe someone on here could form a list or something for them.

thank you

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I don't have sources, but I can answer from personal experience. All of the mitzvot of Shabbat are important, but the ones they should start with are the ones that will make the biggest impact. Those are:

  1. Those that are easy for them to do, because early successes make the whole task seem less daunting.

  2. Those that involve a fundamental change that they can actually do now, because these changes give them something big to point to to say both (a) I accomplished something and (b) and if I could do that then surely I can do (whatever the next one is).

What exactly these are will vary from person to person. In my case, for example, it was not too difficult to change my work schedule so that I could be home before candle-lighting time on Friday -- an example of #2, really setting aside my employment for Shabbat. On the other hand, when I began to observe Shabbat I lived several miles from the nearest synagogue, so not driving wasn't going to happen at that time. (I needed my Shabbat community more than I needed to not kindle that particular flame.) Later -- much later -- I moved and solved that problem, but I couldn't have done it at the beginning. For others it could be the reverse -- maybe you already live near shuls but you're going to need to find a new job to fix the work schedule. Work was in category 1 for me and driving in category 2; for you it could be the reverse.

Further, don't neglect the "do"s and the "small" things. People new to Shabbat tend, in my experience, to think of it mostly as the "thou shalt nots". It can take a while to get into the head-space of Shabbat being a welcome separation from ordinary time instead of a day of restrictions. So make sure to take on the positive things! Festive meals with family/friends make a big difference. Join a torah-study group on Shabbat morning or an afternoon class on something that interests you. Do things that help you relax and enjoy the day (without introducing melachot -- e.g. some people relax by gardening, but instead try walks in the park where you can appreciate others' flowers instead).

Shabbat is a process. As soon as you're somewhat comfortable with what you're already doing, try to take on the next thing, whatever it is. When choosing, in addition to the two factors I mentioned, try to prefer d'oraita obligations -- the d'rabbanans are important too, but the divine punishment for violating d'oraita prohibitions is more severe, so start there. But if there's some d'rabbanan thing that makes you say "oh hey, I could do that easily enough" -- then do it. The more you can do and actually integrate into your weekly routine, the easier it will be to do the others.

  • This is a nice effective post on a topic that is challenging, because it is so different for each person. :) – David Kenner Apr 19 '17 at 1:56
  • " but the ones they should start with are the ones that will make the biggest impact" If this answered the question, then the question would have probably been been primarily opinion based, and off topic. | Maybe there is some halakhic priority other than that which will make the biggest difference. Only personal opinion tells us that this is the determinant. – mevaqesh Apr 19 '17 at 5:27
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    @mevaqesh practical questions seeking experience-based answers are within our scope. An answer rooted in relevant halachot would be a great addition. I've been told by friends observant from birth that they have trouble imagining how someone goes about taking on observance later in life (large, intimidating task), and I think there's room here for people who've had that kind of experience to use it to help others going through that. – Monica Cellio Apr 19 '17 at 14:06
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Since the number of laws and minhagim that pertain to Shabbat are so large and so varied, it is easy for a beginner to feel overwhelmed and to focus on all of the mistakes that they are making. While this approach is natural, it is likely to lead to their being discouraged, feeling that they've already "broken" shabbes, and not believing in their own ability to keep it meaningfully.

Personally, I would recommend focusing on those things that one can do, and then structuring one's day around that. Depending on your friend's personal proclivities, this might involve certain types of board games that they can play with family, books that they might want to read, or even simply going for a walk.

In terms of malachot, I would also advocate a distinction between clearly biblical prohibitions and rabbinic prohibitions. Don't beat yourself up over the fact that you inadvertently carried outside an eruv, for example, or that you caved and bought yourself a Coke. (For that matter, don't beat yourself up over any transgression: acknowledge it and move on). As Monica noted in her excellent answer, observing Shabbat is a process. Ultimately, as things start to become second nature, so you will be able to do it more easily and move on to those things that require greater deliberation.

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