Say Little, Do Much: Heart
By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
“The Holy One desires the heart,” the Rabbis say (Sanhedrin 106B). They define prayer as the “Service of the Heart” (Ta’anit 2A). Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther somewhat idiosyncratically echoed this principle: “Faith is under the left nipple.” In our relationships to God, our inner life matters a great deal: our faith, our beliefs, our hopes.
The Sages articulated a very different approach in our dealings with fellow mortals: Devarim she-ba-lev einam devarim – “Things that remain in the heart are nothing” (Kiddushin 49B). This halachic dictum is cited in divorce law, in Temple ritual, in regard to property transactions, in the offering of vows, etc.
With notable exceptions, it represents a defining principle of normative Jewish Law and practice. We may love a spouse deeply, but we must demonstrate that heartfelt commitment through faithful, loving, supportive, compassionate, daily conduct. Honoring parents (living or departed) is about worthy behavior, not the inchoate sentiments or nostalgia that reside within us. Love of country (or of “thy neighbor” or “the stranger”) requires concrete expression to be meaningful.
Devarim she-ba-lev einam devarim – “Things that remain in the heart – neither articulated nor translated into consequential deeds – ultimately amount to nothing.” The Holy One desires the heart. Jewish morality – and theology – demand meaningful action.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)