Knowledge Before Action?

Yielding to the temptation to offer advice is fearsomely dangerous. When asked for advice, it is indeed tempting to respond magnanimously as the wiser and more experienced person. Condescendingly giving advice, as a rich man grants pennies to a beggar, certainly strokes the ego, but it is oh, so very dangerous.

I know of what I speak. I learned this important lesson in my 20s during the few years that I earned my living as a boat-builder. I can’t even begin to estimate how many people cornered me at parties, at synagogue, or at social encounters with some variation of this: “I am about to buy a boat; should I get a Grady White or a Boston Whaler?” And young fool that I was, I actually answered. I gave advice.

Well, you know what happened next. On one occasion or another, much later, what seemed like every former interlocutor cornered me again to decry the boat they purchased (on my recommendation) as a terrible mistake. The propeller fell off. The boat leaked. The sails tore. The helm vibrated. And they all resented me. I don’t remember a single person who ever thanked me for advising them to purchase what turned out to be a wonderful boat.

I finally learned that the ego boost of giving advice is a treacherous siren to be avoided. Next time someone tried, “You’re in the boat business, what sort of boat…” I didn’t let them get further than that before making my escape, mumbling a vague excuse over my shoulder as I fled.

Professional advice is quite different.

When people have engaged me as a paid, professional consultant, coach, or advisor, it has nearly always worked out well, quite different from the casual advice which produced only pain. Which is why I have been so apprehensive about the free advice I have given to a number of parents lately.

“Three explosive trends have been happening simultaneously in higher education these past few years,” these parents of adolescent boys begin to tell me. They then detail how the cost of a college education has skyrocketed meteorically as these institutions hire more and more administrators and fewer and fewer educators. Second, they speak of the pathological Leftism that has infected the campus both socially and intellectually. Finally, they remark on the increase in the proportion of students who are female. Do you think it really makes sense for our son to commit to a four-year university?

Lately, I have nearly always responded with advice. And my advice has mostly been: Turn your back on university!


King David said, “Shun evil and do good…” (Psalms 34:15). First priority is shun evil. Turn your back on university. Next thing to do is, do good. What would that be?

Easy. Help your son become a journeyman electrician, plumber, boilermaker or rigger. The avenue is either through trade school or apprenticeship. Unlike what he would get from four years at a university, most of what he will receive in this avenue will be true, practical, and useful. What is more, he will quickly be equipped to earn money instead of landing up with unconscionable debt. Finally, his character and self-discipline will both improve unlike what is the most likely outcome in academia.

But that’s not all. Find a way— any way—to encourage your son to read one good book every week. Choose the books carefully and after four years your son will be far ahead in every way important in life from where he’d have been had he followed the increasingly ghastly university route. Whether he wants to remain in the trade he has mastered or whether he wishes to seek employment in the corporate world, he is way ahead.

Partially he will be ahead of others who followed the conventional but now utterly obsolete university pathway because success comes to those who master both knowledge and action. Universities used to teach knowledge but seldom action. Nowadays they have stopped teaching knowledge. They indoctrinate with lies, propaganda and distortion. The avenue I advise provides both knowledge and action.

I feel confident giving this advice because it is in accordance with ancient Jewish wisdom. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

1 And you shall teach them (these rules and this wisdom) to your children and discuss them…
(Deut. 6:7)

2 And you shall tie them as a sign upon your arm and they will be motivations between your eyes
(Deut. 6:8)

We learn from this that the first verse tells us the importance of knowledge while the next verse emphasizes action.

However, a few chapters ahead we find these two verses:

1 …and you shall tie them as a sign upon your arm and they will be motivations between your eyes
(Deut. 11:18)

2 And you shall teach them (these rules and this wisdom) to your children and discuss them…

This time, the first verse tells us the importance of action while the second verse emphasizes knowledge.

In one set, knowledge is presented before action, while in the second set, action is presented first, followed by knowledge. In this fashion, Scripture conveys to us the vital life lesson that for successful living, both knowledge and action are equally important.

By using those crucial four years to master a trade as well as mastering perhaps two hundred important books, your son will do far better than had he spent that valuable time in a university where he would have acquired neither knowledge nor action.

So, there you have it. You know my advice about how your son should spend his four post-high school years. Just don’t ask me about what boat to buy.

This Thought Tool is dedicated in memory of Menuha Chulati, age 75, a mother, grandmother and teacher murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. A former student of hers wrote about his teacher that she was, “the reason that I finished school! Always supported, helped, embraced — there are people in this world who leave a mark on you for your whole life, Menuha was one of them… you will always stay in my heart, but now my heart is broken and shattered.”

And with prayers for the release of all the hostages, and among them Youssef Hamis Ziyadne, 53, and Hamza Ziyadne, 22, Bedouin Arabs who understand that this is a war against civilization, not just against the Jews.


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