First Comes the Deed

There is a Talmudic teaching that one should do something and the reason will follow – mitoch shelo l’shma, bah l’shma. Part of this counsel is the understanding that often emotion follows action, rather than preceding it. Act joyously and you will feel joy.

It is easy to get caught in theory and propose ways to live without living. The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus critiques those too enmeshed in theory this way in his Discourses:

“A carpenter does not approach you and say ‘Listen to me talk about the art of carpentry. He makes a contract for a house and builds it…Do the same…Eat like a man, drink like a man…get married, have children, take part in civic life, learn how to put up with insults and tolerate other people.”

Discourses on pluralism – or attacking others for their lack of same — are less important than demonstrating how you can absorb and understand views that are different from your own. Counsels to kindness matter far less than kind actions. Discourse is second to doing.

At the end of the Torah, Moses is praised for “asher asah Moshe” – that which Moses did. What Moses said obviously mattered enormously, but only because his actions gave credibility and power to the words he spoke in God’s name.

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.
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