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Faith through Action: The Creed and the Deed

August 22, 2020

Sometimes when I need inspiration, I open up to the Table of Contents of my Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Now, everyone finds inspiration in different places, but I understand that this may be an unusual one, and it requires some explanation. In this Table of Contents, one will find a list of the topics that are discussed in this classic work of Jewish Law. In summary, it’s pretty much… everything. Of course, the way we pray, observe Shabbos and Yom Tov, say a bracha, and put on tefillin (and so much more) are all on that list. But so are things like conducting business, planting produce, going to the bathroom, going to sleep, borrowing money, engaging in marital intimacy, and getting dressed. It may be a bit overwhelming, but I find it to also be inspiring, that Hashem’s divine wisdom truly does guide and influence every aspect of our lives.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes [1]:

Christians have theology. Jews have law. These are two very different approaches to the religious life. Judaism is about a community of action. It is about the way people interact in their dealings with one another. It is about bringing G-d into the shared spaces of our collective life. Just as we know G-d through what he does, so G-d asks us to bring Him into what we do. In the beginning, as Goethe put it, was the deed. That is why Judaism is a religion of law because law is the architecture of behaviour.

One of Judaism’s unique aspects is its focus on law and detail. We measure to the inch and time to the second, and nearly every act of our daily routines is governed by the Torah's instruction.

However, inasmuch as Judaism focuses strongly on the deed, there is certainly great value in the creed as well, to borrow the language of Rabbi Sacks. If we take a bird’s eye view of the book of Devarim, Parshat Shoftim seems to represent a turning point. The first four parshiyot focus primarily on broad principles, axioms, and beliefs. Commentaries explain that the first eleven chapters of the book of Devarim are focused on rebuke for mistakes made throughout the years in the desert, and inspiration for the new generation to be better. We are reminded of the requirement to love, fear, and cleave to G-d; we are taught the concept of reward and punishment through what later became the second paragraph of the daily shema; and the story of G-d’s revelation at Sinai and giving of the Torah is again retold.

The transition to Parshat Shoftim, then followed by Ki Teitzei and Ki Tavo, is a return to the nitty gritty details of halacha. In fact, these three parshiot contain a total of 169 mitzvot, which is more than one-fourth of all of the 613 mitzvot. In other words, we have spent four weeks focused mostly on creed, and we now begin a three week journey through deed. But they both- the creed and the deed- exist together and are truly one, as I will explain.

This week was a sad one for the Jewish people, and particularly for the Chicagoland Jewish community. R. Chaim Dov Keller zt’l was co-Rosh Yeshiva of the Telz Yeshiva in Chicago for many years, and just passed away on Monday. He was an accomplished talmid chacham (Torah scholar) and a Rebbe who educated many students. His presence and leadership surely leaves an indelible mark on the entire city. This week I spent some time learning more about him and reading some of his writings, and I encountered a beautifully written passage. This was written in 1969 as a prologue to a bentcher (called The Yavneh Shiron) in an article entitled “The Sabbath- Faith Through Action”:

The essence of Judaism’s uniqueness is its basic philosophy of “thinking by doing…”

Observance of the Shabbos is one of the most salient examples of this process of faith through action. No amount of abstruse philosophical discussion on the concept of creation ex nihilo can ever serve to convince man of the fact that the universe was created by the Almighty as does the tangible “sign” of the Shabbos.

By desisting from all creative work on the Sabbath we do not merely give lip service to the principle that “G-d created the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested.” We actually live it. When we take the full and very tangible cup of wine in our hand and recite the Kiddush- we do not merely make an other-worldly confession of faith, but attest to the sanctity of the Sabbath and of the world by taking part of that world and sanctifying it through service to the Lord of all Worlds.

He continues and references the famous words declared by the Jewish people when receiving the Torah: “נעשה ונשמע, we will do and we will hear/learn! (Shemot 24:7)” נעשה, we will do, refers to action, or deed. נשמע, we will hear/learn, refers to understanding and belief, or creed. Both are integral, but it begins with deed, because ultimately, deed leads to creed, and our faith becomes belief built through action.

Moshe spent four parshiyot emphasizing our principles of faith and our guiding precepts. But we should all ask ourselves: how can we achieve this? How can we develop our faith in, and connection to, Hashem? How can we develop a healthy sense of love and fear of the Almighty? The answer beings with Parshat Shoftim, which focuses on our deeds. Get busy doing mitzvot, and you will understand more, Moshe is teaching. Focus on the נעשה, and the נשמע will then come. In that way, Shabbos, and all of our mitzvot, will lead us to “faith through action.”

Good Shabbos!

Rabbi Fox

[1] Deed and Creed, Britain’s Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784