“Be Sure Before You Act” – Shemini 5783

D'var Torah | Leviticus

If there is a motto to be ascribed to the Torah it would be “Be sure before you act.”  That is certainly the message of the Torah early on when God states that He “will go down to see” if the misconduct of the inhabitants of Sodom is as bad as thought (Genesis. 18:21). Of course, an omniscient God has no need to check since He already knows the answer. But the message for the readers is that if God who already knows the answer is described as checking to be sure, then human beings who are not all-knowing must certainly do no less.

In the book of Deuteronomy God commands that should a case of idolatry be suspected wherein charlatans mislead a city into the worship of foreign gods, a careful inquiry must be conducted before the wrongdoers are condemned and punished (Deut. 13:16). And in Leviticus 10:16 Moses is described as carefrully checking to see if Aaron and his remaining sons ate of the sacrificial meat even after the demise of Nadav and Avihu. All these sources speak to necessity – not to mention the benefit – of checking the facts prior to acting.

There are obvious advantages in avoiding rash actions. Embarrassing moments may be eliminated when a person might be forced to admit error and apologize. Friendships can be preserved when erstwhile friends are not wrongfully accused of some misdeed. But beyond the advantages, checking facts offers a time delay that allows for reconsideration. It creates a buffer between initial anger and disappointment and resultant action that may prove to be irremediable.

Whether certainty is a condition that can ever be met is a philosophical problem that need not be resolved for the scriptural message to still have value. As a rule of conduct, checking the facts is always a wise course of action.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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