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Two Minutes of Torah: Nitzavim-Vayeilech - Our Words and Deeds

It may seem like a strange place to start a Dvar Torah, but I remember when Pope Francis was installed as the new Pope that many people were talking about his inspiration, St. Francis of Assissi.  At the time many people made reference to a quote from St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.”

I was struck by this quote, and found it very interesting to think about the way that we preach through our actions and not just when standing up on the bimah and delivering a sermon.  And it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

In this week’s Torah portion, we’re coming very close to the end of Mose’s life and the end of his speech which he has been delivering to the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan.  Part of the instructions this week, is about where to find Torah.  Moses said to the people, “It is not in the heavens that you should say who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it, neither is it beyond the sea that you should say who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it.”  He then says the thing is very close to you, "it’s in your mouth and in your heart to observe it." 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of Torah being both in our mouths and in our hearts and what Moses was really trying to say to the people.  On one level, I think that this is an indication that we need to internalize the message of Torah, we need to make it part of ourselves, not something that we see as distant and separate.  Hidden away in the Aron HaKodesh, in the Ark, in the synagogue, but rather something that infuses and is part of our daily life and our everyday existence. 

But at the same time, I’m struck by the fact that Moses said in our mouth and in our hearts.  In this way, I think that Moses was reminding us that when we do Torah properly, it’s about our actions and our words being in sync.  There needs to be an agreement between our words and our actions to fully observe the Torah.  Isaac Bashevis Singer, famously said, we know what a person thinks, not when they tell us what they think, but by their actions. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses reminds us that it’s all well and good to speak about Torah, to talk about Torah, and to teach Torah but the important thing is to couple what comes out of our mouths with what’s in our hearts and our actions in this world.  In this way, we can teach Torah by the way that we act and, if necessary, we can also use our words.

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