Not all words are worth our time.

Pirkei Avot, the collection of lessons and moral explorations in the Mishnah, is quite unique. Unlike much of the rabbinic literature at that time, it was not focused specifically on a set of laws or holidays. In it, we learn lessons about life and how to live.

Avot d’Rabbi Natan is an expansion and commentary on Pirkei Avot, composed centuries later, and offers us even more to learn on this broad subject.

In Avot d’Rabbi Natan 22:3, we learn:

Wisdom does not bring words and words do not bring wisdom, rather action does. The one who increases words brings sin, as it is said in Scripture, “In [the place where there is] the most words, sin does not cease [and the one who restrains their lips is prudent,](Proverbs 10:19) and it says, “The foolish are also silent are considered wise [and the one who shuts their lips is understanding,]” (Proverbs 17:28).

Words have tremendous power to create worlds, as we learn in the story of Creation. We know it is possible for our words to impact someone more deeply than any physical thing that happens to them.

Words have power.

However, words alone are not a measure of wisdom. In fact, a deluge of words can be overwhelming. We all know someone who talks too much without saying anything at all. We learn here to watch our words and be prudent with what and how much we say.

However, we are cautioned against taking this too far. We cannot assume that silence means wisdom either.

This means we must be careful with the words we say, the words we hear, and from whom we hear them.

In 2009, a ​study​ showed that the average American consumes 100,000 words of information each day, roughly the length of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit. Every day.

This included content encountered through radio, television, online, and print. The internet only represented 16% of information hours, and entertainment via the internet was only 2% of all entertainment consumption.

The data is from more than 15 years ago.

In 2020, Americans spent ​more than thirteen hours every day​ consuming media at home and at work, including social media, television, radio, and print media.

Since then, with the pandemic, the speed of the content we encounter, and our collective addiction to devices, we are pummeling our brains with so much information. More than that, we’re being fed content that we do not choose via an algorithm and rarely think about what we’re consuming.

It is terrifying to just look at our screen times.

This Avot d’Rabbi Natan powerfully reminds us that not all of it is worth our time.

When we look out into the ocean of “words” (and YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram videos) beaming at us constantly from every corner of the internet, we have to remember that we must be thoughtful about who and what we let into our brains (and our hearts).

Thank you for reading! In my With Torah and Love newsletter, I write about Torah, Talmud, self-awareness, and becoming our best selves as students of life and Judaism.

About the Author

Rabbi Jeremy Markiz is a teacher and consultant. He teaches the Torah rooted in personal growth, kindness, intentionality, and bettering the world. He writes the With Torah and Love newsletter.

He helps clergy, congregations, and Jewish organizations grow and communicate clearly in the digital world, develop effective strategies, and solve problems with his consulting firm, Next Level Rabbinics.