Arguably, A Mitzvah

Jewish tradition is full of argument, but argument is not its essence. Judaism is a system devoted to the sacred deed.

Mitzvot in all their array — ritual, ethical, colorful, mundane, God-directed, human-centered — mitzvot are the central stuff of Judaism. What cannot be said can be enacted. The meaning of Shabbat candles is ultimately inexpressible; lighting is the language of ritual, at once less articulate and yet deeper than any words.

In George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Mrs. Farebrother comments, “When you get me a good man made out of arguments, I will get you a good dinner with reading you the cookery book.” The most adroit Talmudic disputations alone will not make someone good. Action outstrips erudition.

In the Talmud we are told that the mitzvot are given “only to refine human character.” The mitzvah, done right, shapes our souls. Each time we act is a godly manner it reinforces the characteristics in us that are nobler and better. So argue away — it is a good and venerable enviable. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the words we speak matter less than the deeds we do.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.