Say Little. Do Much.

When Yeshua was walking this earth, he was continually teaching his disciples his interpretations of Torah. He continually emphasized repentance and loving both our Heavenly Father and our neighbor through our actions and not merely our feelings. This naturally leads us to Shammai’s teaching in Pirkei Avot. Shammai taught his disciples, “Say little and do much” (Avot 1:15). According to the Talmud the wicked say much and do little, but the righteous say little and do much. An example is given of Abraham and how his deeds exceeded his words: 

It is written: “And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and satisfy your heart” (Genesis 18:5), and it is written: “And Abraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good” (Genesis 18:7). Rabbi Elazar said: From here we learn that the righteous say little and do much, whereas the wicked say much and do not do even a little. (Bava Metzia 87a)

In this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Elazar contrasts what Abraham said to what he actually did. Abraham said that he would bring them “a morsel of bread,” something insignificant to stave off their hunger. But in reality, however, he had Sarah make them a feast made from three seahs of flour (nearly five gallons of flour!) and had a calf slaughtered for them. In other words, the wicked boast about everything they are going to do, but yet they do very little. And while the righteous don’t make great claims about what they will do, they simply work hard to produce pleasant and unexpected results. 

Similarly, Yeshua taught his disciples, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). If we say we will do something, then we need to back it up with our actions. This is a matter of personal integrity, which reflects back on our Master. Disciples of Yeshua should not over-commit and under-deliver. Many people struggle with this (author included), because we want to do something and often misjudge our allotted time. But we have to realize our limitations and commit to only what we can realistically deliver, so that the name of my Master will be honored. We need to follow the example of our Master and “say little and do much.”

Yeshua also demonstrated this principle. Once some people brought a paralytic to Yeshua in order to be healed. Rather than healing him, he told the man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  Realizing the uncomfortable position of his audience, Yeshua addressed their thoughts by saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”  Yeshua could have walked away at that point and merely claimed the man’s sins were forgiven. But to demonstrate his authority over sin, he spoke healing to the man also. The question he addressed his audience with is, “Does the Son of Man have the authority to forgive sins?” Rather than trying to persuade his opponents, Yeshua took action. He proved his authority, rather than arguing about it. He “said little and did much.” His actions spoke louder than his words.

Saying Versus Doing

Sometimes we think we are doing when we are really only saying. What do I mean by this? Yeshua teaches his disciples, “You are the light of the world … Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). Many followers of Yeshua think that the “light” they are supposed to be shining is the message of salvation. They believe it is our job to try and get people “saved” so they will go to heaven. But, as Yeshua states, the true light is seen more clearly through actions than words. It is our job to proclaim the Good News, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” But this message should be spoken with a sensitivity to our recipients. James, the brother of our Master, taught this principle by saying:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14–17)

The light Yeshua spoke of are the commandments of the Torah and the good deeds we do for others. How do we know this and what exactly was Yeshua referring to? Proverbs 6:23 states, Ki neir mitzvah, v’Torah Ohr, “For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah a light.”  How does this work? The Torah was given to Israel so they could be a light to the nations, a testimony of the One True God who created the universe. The LORD told Israel that their mission—to bring Jews back to the covenant given to them collectively at Sinai—should not be inward focused only, but should extend to the nations, saying, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). From the very beginning He charged Israel with the command to shine their light through living out the mitzvot (commandments) He gave them:

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:6–8)

When Jews live righteously before the LORD and before those around them, doing not only what is expected of them, but doing what is right and good in all situations, their light shines like the sun at midday. Everyone can see their love and devotion to Hashem and will be drawn to them like bees to honey. 

Our actions are the only thing people can judge about us. If we are teaching one thing and living another, there is no reason for our message to be heard. We have a responsibility to live as Kingdom citizens and reflect the light of our Messiah through our actions. When we fulfill a mitzvah, whether Jew or Gentile, we raise our lamp and shine the light of the Torah into the hearts and souls of others.