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Home » Shabbos, The Jewish Faith, Vayetze

Vayetze: Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

Submitted by on November 27, 2011 – 4:40 amNo Comment | 1,645 views

Is Talking Enough?

We live in a world of action. If you want something to be real, you can’t just talk about it, you have to do something about it. Talking about love is not enough. Even if you truly love your words aren’t real until you do something to show it. You can vent your anger all day long, but no one will take you seriously until you act on it. It is only when you do something about your feelings that people take you seriously.

When you think about it the opposite should be true. Speech is the most potent medium of expression because it allows us to describe precisely what feel. When you talk the listener knows precisely who is talking and what you are trying to convey. The listener realizes that he or she is being made privy to a highly personal and private matter.

By contrast, actions are entirely impersonal. They have no descriptive powers and cannot convey what we feel or how. You can bring flowers or a gift, but no one can know if you’re driven by love or an ulterior motive. You can build a monument or write a novel, but once the action is complete no one will know who built or wrote it. Even if they know you built it they might easily remain clueless about what you hoped to convey. By rights, words should be valued more than action.

Yet in this world people don’t take words seriously. If you want to make your feelings real, you have to express them through action. Action cannot express a feeling, but it can capture it. In our world, it is more important to capture a feeling in tangible terms than to express it in verbal terms. Verbiage is nice, but cheap. Action is what we value here.

This is odd because my beloved can learn far more about me by listening to me than by accepting my gifts. Yet, ours is a tactile world where emphasis is placed more on what we can do than on what we can say. We want people to give us their things far more than we want them to give us their words.

Creation in Word and Deed

When G-d created the world He used both speech and deed. G-d spoke and the world came into being. G-d said let there be light and there was light. On the other hand, the Torah also tells us that G-d made such things as the firmament and the great luminaries.

It is not that G-d spoke certain things into being and made others through action. Everything that G-d made was created first by utterance and a second time though action. This is implied by the verse “G-d saw all that He had done and it was very good” and the verse “These are the chronology of the earth and the skies that G-d created on the day that G-d, the Almighty G-d made the earth and the sky. First G-d created the earth and sky through speech and then He remade them with an action.

The difference between speech and action is that the speaker is always revealed, but the actor’s hand can be concealed from the things he or she acts upon. Had G-d only spoken the world into existence He would have been visible in the world He created. In other words, we would have seen G-d’s presence veritably in our lives.  As it is, G-d created our world through deed and thus concealed His hand. It is possible to live our lives in a world G-d made without once noticing His hand or presence.

Though our world does not freely divulge the secret of its creator there are pursuits such as prayer and meditation that make us more aware of His presence. When we meditate on G-d and apply ourselves carefully to understanding His ways we become aware of His hand in our daily lives. When we pray to G-d regularly we become attuned to G-d’s providence in our personal affairs.

It would have been logical to suppose that the only way to develop a relationship with G-d is through activities that tune us into the truth of His presence. One would have thought that prayer, study and meditation are the primary ways to achieve a relationship with G-d. But this could only have been true had G-d created our world through speech, in which case relationships would only be real if you could discern and identify the one to whom you relate.

Indeed, there are spiritual worlds that were created through Divine utterance where G-d is clearly visible. The angels and souls, who inhabit these realms, know G-d and are aflame with sacred passion and ecclesiastic devotion. But as it happens we live in a world that G-d created through action. It is a world from which G-d concealed Himself. This means that we are intended to forge a relationship with G-d even through activities and pursuits that don’t allow us to see G-d.

 In our world of action, deeds such as the practical Mitzvot count for more than words such as those of prayer. Our world is not so much about conveying the truth, but about capturing it. And as we discussed earlier feelings are captured through deed much more potently than through words.

This is why G-d instructed us to worship Him not only through prayer, but also through observing Shabbat, keeping kosher and giving to charity.walking the walk - innerstream He wants us to worship Him through donning Teffilin, lighting Shabbat candles and affixing a Mezuzah to the entryways of our homes. Though these actions do not endow us with a real sense of G-d’s presence, they capture our bond with Him. (1)

Jacob’s Teffilin

The patriarch Jacob was the first to serve G-d through a physical object that ostensibly held no connection to G-d. Jacob peeled the bark from a stick to create a spotted effect and planted these sticks at the river bank. When his sheep mated they gazed upon the spotted sticks and gave birth to spotted sheep. According to Jacob’s arrangement with his father in law the spotted sheep belonged to Jacob.

This was a wondrous tactic that revealed Jacob’s knowledge of animal husbandry. But Jewish mystics tell us that the sticks were much more than that. These spotted sticks were the first form of Teffilin because they created a spotted effect similar to that of black letters on the white parchment of Teffilin.

There is no discernible link between black straps or spotted sticks and G-d. But, as we pointed out in this essay, our world does not require a link that conveys the connection. It requires an action that captures it. Jacob could have meditated on the concealed and revealed elements of Divine radiance to connect his soul with G-d. But he wanted more. He channeled his meditation into the simple action of making a spotted stick. This action might not have conveyed his feelings for G-d, but it captured his reflections perfectly.

Footnotes

  1. To be sure our world was created through both
    action and speech. It is true that action counts for most in this world,
    but there is still room for speech. In fact if one only acted out his
    love and never spoke to his beloved it would be considered weird. The
    same holds true in our relationship with G-d. Most Mitzvot consist of
    actions, but there are several Mitzvot that are fulfilled through speech
    and thought such as prayer, study and meditation. While these Mitzvot
    are in the minority, their importance is incalculable for it is only
    through these Mitzvot that we actually awaken in ourselves a spiritual
    sense and a feeling of closeness to G-d. It can be said that these
    Mitzvot give expression to the bond that the other Mitzvot
    capture.
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