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Count the Omer. 49 transformative steps

Counting the Omer with Rabbi Josh Bennett

Day 27 —Making a Fence Around One’s Deeds/Words

Ose Siyag L’Davaravעושה סיג לדבריו

By Rabbi Ira F. Stone, Philadelphia, PA

Rabbi Josh Bennett with fellow Mussar traveler, Cindy Kandel, Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, MI
Rabbi Josh Bennett with fellow Mussar traveler, Cindy Kandel, Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, MI

As we follow the steps ascending toward the Acquisition of Torah as outlined in Pirkei Avot Chapter 6, we encounter this step, the injunction to make a fence around our words, which is also the Hebrew word for deeds. Some of us are immediately reminded of a similar phrase found near the beginning of Pirkei Avot, in fact in the very first paragraph of this collection of Rabbinic wisdom where we are enjoined to “Make a fence around the Torah.” It is the very ambiguity of that first Mishnah that is elucidated here near the end of the collection.

If we begin by wondering exactly how we are supposed to make a fence around the Torah, then the importance of this particular statement becomes self-evident. However, not so self-evident that we didn’t first have to study our way through nearly six chapters of Rabbinic ethical maxims. But in the end we come to full understanding. We are certainly not required to build a literal fence around a literal Torah, whether a scroll or a book. Nor, it seems to me, is the threat to the Torah that requires its protection merely the fact that we might break one of the Rabbinic laws that distance us from breaking the actual laws written in the Torah, though that has its place.

Rather, our Mishnah recognizes that the true threat to the creation of a holy community, which Israel/the Jewish People are enjoined to strive toward, are human deeds and, I would maintain, most specifically human language. Language is not only a function of speech. We communicate with people through our actions, the looks on our faces, the posture of our bodies. In fact, the distinction between words and deeds rightly disappears and Hebrew inscribes the idea in the one word davar. The safety of the Torah, the potential of achieving the challenging mission it set for us, is threatened most by how we speak to others, whether that speech is in words or deeds. The language of humanity must be made pure, must be made to sing the glories of the Divine Source, not merely in songs, but in actions.

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