Mishpatim 5770 — Take a Leap of Action
Is it foolish to accept instructions on blind faith?
Among the many commandments in this week's Torah reading, Mishpatim, is the response of the Jewish people: "All the Lord has commanded, na'aseh v'nishmah, 'we will do and we will hear(understand).'" The Talmud records that when the people responded this way, the angels cried out, "who has told the people this great secret from on high???!!!"Why is this a big secret? Because it's contrary to human nature.
In Madregat HaAdam, a work of Mussar, R. Joseph Horowitz explains that in the normal course of events, when someone makes a request of them, they first consider the request and decide whether or not they want to do it, and they are cautious, lest the request be something that will cause them harm, or it will be something impossible for them to live with. In other words, they put “nishma,” we will hear or understand, ahead of “na’aseh,” we will do.
By giving precedence to "we will do" the people were demonstrating their love of God. The Slonimer Rebbe says the goal of every Jew should be to achieve devekut, a cleaving to God, a powerful connection with God. Na’aseh v’nishmah shows this, because the essence of na’aseh v’nishmah is that even in dark times, when we don’t understand the will of God very clearly, when our understanding is limited, we still put we will do before "we will understand." We still cleave to God, we still accept God, even if we don’t totally understand God.
If someone you love asks you "do me a favor?" What's your response? "Sure, what is it?" You don't say "what is it" before you say "sure." It's the same way with God. If you believe God loves you, you know God wouldn't give you commandments that are bad for you. So you say "sure" and later you'll understand.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said Judaism does not call on us to make a leap of faith — it calls on us to make a "leap of action." Believe what you want, but do the mitzvot.
And that's the secret of na'aseh v'nishmah. It's the Jewish path toward knowledge of God, and love of God. Just as Buddhists meditate to draw close to God, Jews do mitzvot.
If you want to understand what Shabbat is about, trying to understand it intellectually is not the way to do it — you need to "take a leap of action," put na'aseh before nishmah and give it a try.
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