I think that we all intuitively recognize that words and deeds are linked. Just this past week, the world saw another terrorist attack – this time in Manchester. We don’t yet know everything about the perpetrator of this atrocity. However, we do know that despite being born and raised in England, he was “radicalized.” That usually begins with words and those words lead to deeds — in this case, horrendous ones.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we heard a speech this week from the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, discussing the need to talk honestly about the Confederacy and those who continue to idolize Confederate leaders. This speech, of course, is related to his city’s ongoing effort to remove four statues of Confederate “heroes,” because they were symbols of hate, bigotry and intimidation.
Words and deeds are linked – for good AND for bad. The ancient rabbis of the Talmud knew this as we can see in the following story:
Rabbi Tarfon and some elders were reclining in an upper chamber in the house of Nitza in Lod when this question came up: Which is greater, study or action? Rabbi Tarfon spoke up and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva spoke up and said: Study is greater. The others then spoke up and said: Study is greater because it leads to action (BT Kiddushin 40b).
Our tradition obviously places a premium on education and learning. However, we don’t just learn for the sake of learning. We study in order to inform our actions. We study to give ourselves the wherewithal to make our world a better place.
That’s why Shavuot – which begins next Tuesday evening – is such an important holiday. There’s no menorah or shofar or lulav. It’s more of a synagogue holiday than a home holiday. So, as a result, it gets a little lost in the shuffle. However, on Shavuot, we are supposed to remember that God has given us a plan for making the world a better place. If we study the words of the Torah and try to put its principles into practice, we can do exactly that.
So, we begin the celebration of Shavuot next Tuesday at 5:45pm – the holiday upon which we accept the words of the Torah and pledge to link those words to our deeds. Please join us!