In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 25, 2004 /4 Nissan, 5764

Do thoughts count?

By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

Intent, action and responsibility

https://www.jewishworldreview.com | In 1976, we spent Passover in Safed, Israel, in a small hotel. Among the guests was a Mr. Weiss, who had come to Israel from Germany in the early 1930s. He told us this story:

Once the leader of religious Zionism, Meir Berlin (later Bar Ilan), found himself in Safed late at night. Safed then was extremely small. There was only one public inn. Berlin entered and asked for a bed.

The innkeeper adamantly refused. He had no space.

Berlin was beside himself. He would have no other place to stay but the street.

He begged the inkeeper, who refused Berlin outright.

Berlin persisted.

Finally, the innkeeper allowed, "I do have one bed, but there is someone else in the room, and you wouldn't want to be with him."

"Who is it?" asked Berlin.

"David Ben Gurion."

Ben Gurion and Berlin were fierce ideological opponents, the one a religious Zionist, a believer in the Torah; and the other a secular Zionist.

"I don't mind at all," Berlin told the innkeeper.

"OK," said the innkeeper, "but just because you don't mind, doesn't mean Ben Gurion won't mind. I must go ask him."

The innkeeper asked Ben Gurion, who said "no problem."

Now the innkeeper was intrigued. He had two of the most important — and contending — leaders of the fledgling Jewish settlement in Israel in his inn. He couldn't imagine the fierce arguments that would occupy them the whole night. He couldn't wait until morning to find out what happened.

Actually, this is what did happen:

Both leaders lay down to sleep. No arguments. No exchanges. Either Ben Gurion or Berlin (I forget which) told the other: It's hot in here. It's unbearably stuffy. Please open the window!

The other replied: No, it's too cool. If I open the window, I'll freeze!

First the window was opened, to accommodate the one who was too hot. Then the other, who could not stand the cold, shut the window. A few minutes later, the other, choking from the heat, opened the window. So it went, open and close, until both finally fell asleep, unhappy but exhausted.

The next morning, the innkeeper asked Ben Gurion and Berlin what they had discussed, and was told this story. Whereupon the innkeeper, whom we may imagined rolling his eyes, replied: "Really? That's the one room in the whole inn whose window frame has no pane."

Donate to JWR

As pointless as was Ben Gurion's and Berlin's debate over hot and cold is the question as to whether, in Judaism, thoughts count.

Do thoughts count? Of course they do, one might be tempted to say, especially after forgetting an important birthday, then remembering it two weeks later. If the person you forgot is gracious, he or she will say, "It's the thought that counts." Meaning: What really counts is the action, but I'll forgive you since you meant well.

Which counts most, then, thoughts or acts? It's a complicated topic in Judaism. Saul of Tarsas, propagator of Christianity, thought that Judaism regarded actions above all else. Judaism doesn't care what you think or feel, only what you do, he said. Judaism values the "law." To Saul, this was a biting criticism.

Some 1,700 years later, this was a high compliment, according to Moses Mendelsohn, the founder of the Jewish enlightenment in Western Europe.

Mendelsohn argued that Judaism required only action — and that this was a strength. Mendelsohn wished to adopt European ways of thought and felt he could do so and still remain a good Jew, provided only that he performed Jewish acts — the mitzvos, or commandments. Judaism, he said, was strictly a matter of "legislation." Any Jew was free to think whatever he wanted about G-d and philosophy, just so he observed the laws of the Torah.

Here is a contemporary version of the same approach, heard in certain Orthodox Jewish circles: Homosexuality is wrong, but only to the extent that it expresses itself in an act. The act is wrong, but the thought or "orientation" is not proscribed. Judaism values the "law" only. The circle comes back on itself, from Saul of Tarsas to Mendelsohn to some Orthodox rabbis. Strange bedfellows indeed.

The point is this: Yes, Judaism values acts; yes, Judaism is a religion of acts, of mitzvos; but no, acts do not exhaust Judaism. Far from it. Just as Saul was wrong about Judaism, ignoring the importance that Judaism places on love and other emotions and intentions, so, too, every Jewish thinker who tries to reduce Judaism to deeds alone ignores a pivotal quality of the religion.

This is brought home in this week's Torah portion by the olah sacrifice. It was offered on many occasions, one being this: Having sinful thoughts that are not carried out. Do thoughts count? Indeed they do. The very first sacrifice in Leviticus — the olah — was brought for imagining sin, for thinking unworthy thoughts. One dreamt of sin, nothing more. For this one was obligated to go to the trouble and expense of offering an olah sacrifice in the Temple.

We have no more Temple, but we do have sinful thoughts, and we do have a clear value statement about them in this week's Torah portion. Thoughts count.

Not just sinful thoughts, of course. Judaism, while stressing action, also prescribes states of mind. This topic is explored by Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda in his Duties of the Heart ("Chovos Halevavos"), reprinted and translated repeatedly since it was first published a millennium ago.

The most important "duties of the heart" or states of mind are love of G-d and fear of G-d. While love or fear of G-d may be expressed in actions, they may also be pure states of mind, attitudes toward, relationships with, the Creator. Thoughts count.

The Torah asks us to be honest, but also not to think about being dishonest; to utter words of prayer, but also to elevate ourselves through them into a relationship with G-d. The Torah asks us to honor our parents with acts of respect and means of support, and also with attitudes, emotions and demeanor. The Torah asks us to purify our thoughts, and the Psalmist knows our weakness in this area. "G-d knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity."

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik said this about Judaism's laws of mourning: The required framework are the laws of shiva, the formal week of mourning — the sitting on low stools, the covering of the mirrors, the confinement to the house for seven days — but the actual fulfillment of these laws is the inner sense of loss, the emotional grief.

Judaism, to use Rabbi Israel Salanter's term, seeks to mold "the whole person" (adam ha-shalem). In a whole person, acts count. So do thoughts.

Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News. To comment, please click here.

© 2004, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg