Judaism has never been a system of belief alone. Judaism is enacted faith.
Immediately following the declaration “Shema,” we read about the ways that declaration is carried into the world: teaching children, mezuzah, tzitzit. When a child reaches maturity we do not say he or she has reached the age of belief, but rather the age of action, a son or daughter of mitzvah. To be a mature Jew is to be an acting Jew.
Judaism is a system of mitzvoth, and you can no more be a wonderful Jew with sentiment alone than you can be a great baseball player in your heart. Which mitzvot become central to your life as a Jew varies; some Rabbis have suggested that every person has a special mitzvah that they seek to make their touchstone. But we redeem ourselves the way God is said to redeem in the Torah, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
At Sinai, Israel “Saw the voices [Ex. 20:14].” What can it mean to see a voice? Our sages explain that Israel could see the effect of the voices in people’s lives — in their actions. Then as now, who we are is measured in what we do.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.