Words hold weight, Works build momentum

“Thanks for speaking today about the founder of outdoor playgrounds” a guest teenager expressed following last Saturday morning’s service.  His gratitude echoed the sweetness of last weekend’s opinion piece A Whisper in an Age of Shouting which warmly honored the learning and research that monuments in our public spaces can invite.

Shouting reached a deplorable low this week with Charlie Hebdo cover disgracefully depicting Hurricane Harvey victims as neo-Nazis on the receiving end of Divine punishment.  As Rabbi David Wolpe expressed, “This is not theology.  It is cruelty and stupidity.”  They should not be shot for publishing it.  They should be commandingly condemned for it.  Expression is free. Consequences should be costly.

Among the dozens of laws in this week’s portion of Torah, we are repeatedly warned about reckless expression. “Be watchful of what and how you speak” (Deut 23:24). This cautionary spirit also lies at the heart of the curious command to always remember what God did to Miriam in the aftermath of hurtful speech that she and Aaron spoke about their brother Moses’ wife (Deut. 24:9).  The lesson is clear – words are actionable.

As we drown in a cacophony of degrading rhetoric, the contrast this week in Texas and Louisiana between words spoken and works enacted has been telling.  Deeds that reveal gentle spirits and glowing humanity have been vivid amidst the devastation.  Assertions are ephemeral.  Actions endure.  Claims may compete in the short-term, but the heroism throughout Houston makes a lasting impression.

Words do hold weight.  But works build momentum.  May responsible acts outpace irresponsible argumentation to puncture indifference by empowering plentiful goodness.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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