Mishpatim – Agreeing Before Understanding — By Ben

The phrase Naaseh V’Nishma is considered possibly the most lauded utterance of the Jewish people. Just before the event of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, God asks the Jewish people, “Do you want My Torah?” Without hesitation they give the response;

“Everything that Hashem has said, we will do and we will hear.” 

Shemos 24:7

According to the Gemara, God is ecstatic, boasting to his heavenly court, “Who revealed to My Children this secret answer used only by my angels? (Shabbos 88a). This is in contrast to the Midrash where God went to the spiritual essence of all the other nations offering them the Torah first. But those nations insisted on knowing what was in the Torah, before agreeing. So God selects the one mitzvah that would be hardest for that nation to do (for one it’s no murder, for another it’s no adultery) and one by one those nations decline God’s offer.

The Jewish nation agrees without pause, stipulation, or inquiry. But is this something to be praised? Signing up for a life changing agreement without knowing what you’re getting into? I mean it isn’t an Apple end user license agreement. And even if it was appropriate for the Jews at Sinai, is this something that we today, Jews living in 2019 are supposed to embody? Do we have to say Naaseh V’nishma too?

Sign First, Read Later

One of the biggest criticisms of organized religion is that many of the congregants have a “sheep” mentality, blindly following dogma leading to servile obedience at best, and unspeakable acts at worst. Judaism on the other hand prides itself on relentless study of the text, commentaries on said text, and all the arguments and angles anyone could possibly conceive of. This response of we will do and we will hear, seems counter to our whole way of operating and what sets Judaism apart.

But the thing to understand is that the Jews at Sinai had a relationship with God. They had seen the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Yam Suf (Reed Sea) and now God was revealing himself to the entire nation. It’d be like if Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Willy Wonka all showed up to offer you an amazing quest, but first you were going to train to be a Jedi in the famous Chocolate Factory. Are you going to say no to that?

The Jews had total clarity that the covenant they were entering into was what was good for them. They didn’t need to know exactly what they were getting into. They had clarity in God. But they also said “and we will listen” – V’Nishma. And so we get the commitment in study I described above, leading to an involvement beyond what they start the journey with.

But Are We So Clear?

We don’t have the clarity of seeing God first hand and making this choice. It was made for us and we’re expected to continue the obligation. Somewhat of a let down, isn’t it? As an explanation our tradition says every Jewish soul was present at Mount Sinai for this event. Hence the dating site Saw You At Sinai.

Whether you’re willing to believe in such an esoteric idea or not is up to you. But there’s no escaping the fact that many Jews seem to resonate or connect with aspects of our tradition in amazing ways. There’s a story of a neo nazi in a flood who was forced to rescue a Sefer Torah from a Synagogue. Upon holding the Torah he didn’t want to let it go. Later he learned his grandmother was not only Jewish (making him Jewish) but a holocaust survivor. She was so angry at God after WWII that she wanted her children to forever hate the Jewish people. That neo nazi is now an Orthodox Jew.

Deep down, I think we all know it’s true. We may not agree with all of it, but there’s no escaping the wisdom that was the foundation of modern Judeo-Christian values. Then once you actually delve into Torah, the inspiration and connection you find continues to draw you in.

And that’s where many of us are. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve had some sort of connection or spark but chances are you’re not “all in” – 100% keeping halacha (Torah law). Maybe you’ve been to some classes, heard a good lecture, maybe you even started taking on some mitzvahs. But the expectation that you’re going to keep every Shabbat, never eating at In-N-Out again, and going through quite the ritual every time you have bread… that you’re not so sure you’re ever going to take on.

For us, then, naaseh v’nishmah isn’t about committing 100% right now. We simply don’t have the clarity of our forefathers. But we do have an obligation to the covenant.

Our naaseh v’nishmah is to admit that whatever brought us back to the path is true. Whether it was a class, a lecture, an experience, or an insight. That is our clarity. Because from whatever that experience was, we understood (even if it was just for a second) it was a means to become a better person. More sensitive, more connected to meaning, more connected to values. We have to admit that it was real and to never forget it. In short, we have to do something to reinforce it. Naaseh – we will do.

But that’s only half of it. How do we v’nishmah? Once we’ve committed to never forgetting our clarity, we still have to understand. To do that we have to keep moving forward. Learn about what inspires you. Learn something 5 minutes a day. Take on saying a prayer or Tehillim. It doesn’t have to be much, but it must be consistent. We can’t remain static. Growth isn’t a plateau.

No Buyers Remorse

It’s only from that bedrock of clarity that we can get anywhere near the experience of Sinai. Though there is the urge to settle where it feels comfortable, there is a spiritual thirst in everyone and we have access to the best way to quench it. If only we commit to it. Naaseh V’Nishma.

One response to “Mishpatim – Agreeing Before Understanding — By Ben

  1. I like the explanation of how the Jewish people accepted the Torah and became a sacred people. I also like the idea of continuing to learn about the Jewish religion, prayers, and commandments.

    Liked by 1 person

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