The ancient rabbis, whose tradition I endeavor to carry on in some small way, were famous for spending their time in the House of Study. They valued the study of scripture, which they called Torah, and they studied the laws of Judaism that govern how one should live. They engaged in this study almost exclusively through lively debate, sharing arguments and counter arguments, bringing stories and citations as proofs for their claim. The Talmud, in which these debates were collected in written form, records both the majority and the minority opinions. The laws that we follow, and the ones that were not adopted. All of this is studied in the Jewish tradition to this day, indicating an inherent respect for pluralism.
The rabbis used to say that anyone who does not engage in the study of Torah (the five books of Moses), Mishnah (the law), and Derek Eretz (literally “the way of the land,” in other words, the right way to behave) is not part of society.
Debating this statement, the later generation of rabbis asked, “Is study greater or is action greater? Rabbi Tarfon answered that action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered, Study is greater. Everyone then answered and said: Study is greater, as study leads to action.”
In this chamber you are charged with engaging in both study and action. You are asked to learn, to listen, to open yourself to new knowledge with curiosity and consideration. And you are asked to take action. Becoming informed is not the end goal. Once the experience of your constituents is known, you are responsible to act on this knowledge. You have the opportunity to create real, meaningful change. Witnessing is a powerful act in and of itself, but for the ancient rabbis, and for us, it is not enough.
May the decisions you make today be informed by study: by facts, by information and by people’s real experience.
It is then that the actions you take will make a difference in the lives of the people you serve here in Vermont.
And may this study and action always be joined with Derek Eretz, the right way to behave.