Sam Arnold
Sam Arnold

Parshat Ki Teitzei: Words or Actions or Both?

If one was to ask if words or actions (or both) were more (equal if both) important, what would you choose?

For the past eight weeks, I have taken a Leadership Education class that has very much focused on what it means to be a leader within an ever-changing society. A key component of this course was to understand that leadership must be built on relationships and conversations, whether with colleagues, lay-leaders and volunteers, or other community members, for it helps build inclusivity, Diversity, and awareness for those who are like and not like ourselves. But, at the same time, this class has stressed that while we can speak words of kindness and of compassion, it is actually going out of our way to show what we mean that matters most.

Therefore, if one was to ask if words or actions (or both) were more (equal if both) important, what would you choose?

In our Torah Portion this week, Parshat Ki Teitzei, we find Mitzvot revolving around “war and taking care of hostages, our clothing, family relationships, taking care of the poor, and so much more” (Posen, 2021). But, what is fascinating is that the theme across the board has to do with the actions necessary to illuminate the Mitzvot. Therefore, while Hashem gives the words to the Israelites, it is about actually taking those words and DOING something with them. In this instance, I firmly believe that it is our actions that speak louder than our words.

At the same time, we come across in our Torah portion a verse that solidifies for us what it means to not only speak but also act on what we said. In Devarim 23: 24, the Torah states “מוֹצָ֥א שְׂפָתֶ֖יךָ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר וְעָשִׂ֑יתָ כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר נָדַ֜רְתָּ לַיהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ נְדָבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּ֖רְתָּ בְּפִֽיךָ׃ {ס}, You must fulfill what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God, having made the promise with your own mouth”(Devarim 23:24).

Reading this verse, it again solidifies this idea for me that our words are important, but the action piece matters. What is fascinatingly different here though from the verse used above is that here we find the idea of accountability. Yes, the words in our Torah are between the Israelites and Hashem, God. But, in many ways, this idea of accountability relates to person-person relationships as well. The Torah makes it very clear that we have to be careful with what we commit ourselves to because, at the end of the day, it is the Mitzvah to fulfill it.

Therefore, if one was to ask if words or actions (or both) were more (equal if both) important, what would you choose?

In 2016, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement that included the words: “the Holocaust did not begin with killing, it began with words.” In my eyes, this just goes to show how in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “every word has power.” Yes, our words matter, and as a result, can trigger both positive and negative reactions and actions from anyone. It is because of believing in what Rav Heschel wrote that I believe our words and actions must go hand in hand. Maybe that means that one is not more important than the other, but rather they balance each other.

This is especially true when thinking about how I approach Shabbat services (and really teaching in general) with my students. As someone who was taught to Daven, I often can lead a conversation and share many thoughts and words on the subject. But, when it comes to having a Kabbalat Shabbat or Shabbat Morning service devoted to the religious school, I believe it is my obligation to put my words to use (ACT!) and do something (if possible) during the service. In terms of teaching too, this is why I find it important as well to bring in Jewish ritual objects and show how not only I use them, but how Jewish people all over the world use them too. Finally, that balance is what drives me to include Jewish ideas, quotes, values, etc. within the work that I do because it is what I am passionate about and are guided by.

This Shabbat of Parshat Ki Teitzei, as we wrestle with the question of if one was to ask if words or actions (or both) were more (equal if both) important, what would you choose?, may we be guided by our words of Torah to find that (in my opinion) both our words and actions do matter, and that we must think clearly about the commitments that we make because as the Torah tells us, we are obligated to follow through with each and every one of them not only today but every day!

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach: May it be a Joyous, Inspiring, and Peaceful twenty-five hours of Shabbat for us all!!

About the Author
Sam Arnold is a Junior at Western Michigan University majoring in Early Childhood/Elementary Education and minoring in Comparative Religions, with the goal to receive a master's in Jewish Education and pursue the Rabbinate. He is the 1st and 2nd Grade Teacher, Co High School Teacher, and the K-3 Team leader within the joint Religious School of Congregation of Moses and Temple B'nai Israel in Kalamazoo MI, and serves as President for Western Michigan's Hillel. Sam is a part of the first-ever NEWCAJE College Cohort, a Hadar Davening College Fellow, and has studied underneath Cantor Leonard Gutman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek learning and gaining respect for the art of Davening. Finally, Sam looks to inspire others to live their lives filled with passion, joy, and meaning, just as he is on a daily basis!
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