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By Rabbi Daniel Lapin
September 15, 2013

It makes sense to live life cautiously. Rational thought precludes taking risks. Reason suggests that we carefully weigh all options and avoid stepping onto any path whose outcome cannot be clearly seen. This safe approach reduces the likelihood of wasting one's time and money, or harming one's health. It certainly has merit.

However, if the Wright Brothers, Alexander Fleming, and Guglielmo Marconi had followed this approach, we might travel only on slow boats, trains and cars. We might succumb to bacterial infections, and communicate only by means of slow signals sent down copper wires. Those pioneers acted riskily, expending time, money, and health.

Of course there are times for careful analysis before acting. But as societies slowly decline and lose their vitality the equally important corollary often gets forgotten-there are also times for instant action. One of the conspicuous characteristics of a degenerating, decaying people is much talking, endless conferences and symposiums, exhausting analyses, conferring, debating, reviewing and evaluating. But not much action.

For this reason, we usually see more acts of heroism earlier in nations' histories than later. Once affluence has led to decadence, heroism becomes rare. After all, few acts of heroism make sense when subjected to sustained scrutiny.

The Hebrew calendar provides a special day, an annual booster shot reminding us to keep our action instincts ready, lubricated, and powered-up. This special day is called Yom Kippur, often translated as Day of Atonement.

It is the day on which Moses descended from Mt. Sinai after spending forty days writing the second set of Tablets. (Exodus 34:28-29). Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that the transformative moment for the Jewish people was their unconditional acceptance of the Tablets of the Law. They didn't ask what is written in it. They didn't hold symposiums to assess its value to an emerging nation. They didn't debate, deliberate or discuss it.

What they did do was instantly react with unconditional acceptance.

Long before they could possibly have read the approximately 80,000 words in the Torah they said:

All that God has spoken we will do and obey. (Exodus 24:7)

Most translations of the original Hebrew verse use pretty much the same words I just used. There is only one problem: it's not what the Hebrew says.

What the verse literally says is, "...we will do and hear."

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the word 'hear' often means 'understand.' When a father yells at his child, "Clean up your room; do you hear me?" he is obviously not asking his youngster if he is talking loudly enough. He is really asking, "Do you understand me?"

Furthermore, there is no word in Hebrew for obey. In a book containing over six hundred of God's rules and regulations wouldn't you have expected to find the word 'obey' occuring quite frequently?

Regular Thought Tool readers know the significance of words not existing in the Lord's language. For now, suffice it to explain that the word obey doesn't exist in Hebrew because it implies mindless following of orders and God doesn't want mindless 'obedience' from us.

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Instead, He wants us to struggle to integrate doing and understanding so we reach the height of always being able to think while we act and act while we think. He wants us to integrate the two. Action should lead to understanding and understanding leads to action. Neither should exclude the other. Students of Scripture don't need to choose between, "He who hesitates is lost," and, "Look before you leap." They only contradict one another if they remain separate. The fascinating response of the Israelites is that they will both act and understand, though in this case, action takes the lead. Yom Kippur, linked to the giving of the Torah, reminds us of Israel's transformational response.

Among the self-analysis featured on Yom Kippur we examine how we used the gifts of time and speech. Among other topics, in our five audio CD Biblical Blueprint Set, we explore how understanding and improving in these areas not only pleases God but also benefits our lives. Get Day for Atonement by itself on sale right now or acquire it as part of the whole set, also at a special, low price this week.

To join the free Webcast just sign up here.

2013 Rabbi Daniel Lapin - All Rights Reserved

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Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America's Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on San Francisco’s KSFO. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. In 2007 Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.

You can contact Rabbi Daniel Lapin through his website.

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It makes sense to live life cautiously. Rational thought precludes taking risks. Reason suggests that we carefully weigh all options and avoid stepping onto any path whose outcome cannot be clearly seen.