Thought, speech and action. We normally understand that these three gifts as working in tandem with one another, and in a specific order and progression. First we think about things, mull them over and come to decisions. Then we concretize our decisions through our speech. Something that is thought remains ethereal and abstract. It also remains secret as no one else but the thinker knows about the idea. Once a person verbalizes the idea, s/he has committed to it in a greater fashion. The last step is the action: to act upon our ideals and to practice what we preach.
This order of operations is so ingrained in me that the verse towards the end of Parshat Nitzvaim is surprising. In talking about “the mitzvah” that Moshe claims is accessible to all Jews, he states:
“For the matter is very close to you; in your mouth and in your heart to perform it.”
The progression seems out of order. Why mention our mouths/speech first? Don’t we need to think before we speak? (it would seem that speaking before thinking is a problem that plagues all too many people in this day and age.)
I believe that the Torah here is reminding us of the power of speech. God created the world through speech. We can build the world through our speech- and unfortunately destroy much through that same capacity.
The Torah is also telling us that sometimes the order of operations can be flipped. Even if we don’t believe something in that moment, we can be convinced if we talk as if we believe. Even if we have doubts, those doubts can be resolved if we speak with confidence, even when we are in truth unsure of ourselves. Our outward expression of speech can have tremendous impact on our internal thinking and decision making.
This is a corollary to the “Just Do It” idea, first made famous by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (not Nike). In Mesilat Yesharim Rabbi Luzzatto extolls the importance of concrete positive action, even when we don’t feel like doing it. Because by doing it, we can shift our perspective and come to love doing it as well.
The same can be said about our power of speech. Say “good morning” even when you don’t feel like it. Offer a compliment even if it’s not your nature. Praise someone or something that you normally overlook. It can transform our personalities and our lives for the better.