When the B’nai Yisrael declared “Na’aseh V’Nishma”, they merited the heavenly crowns, bearers of the Shechina, reflections of Gan Eden. This act of acceptance atoned for the original sin, and man was restored to the exalted level of Adam HaRishon.
By promising to do before they understood, they had imitated the angels, raising themselves from a world of choice to a dimension where G-d’s command leaves no room for doubt.
This was a shining moment in Jewish history. Yet, Chazal seem to find fault with their quick acceptance.
“There are seven types of thieves. Chief among them is the one who attempts to fool others……if he would have the opportunity to fool G-d, he would do so…..and similarly, when the B’nai Yisrael stood before Har Sinai, they attempted to fool G-d, as it says: “All that G-d speaks, Na’aseh V’Nishma”. (Tosefta, Bava Kama, 7, 3)
How can the same action be both criticized and applauded?
In our shiur this week we will explain the significance of this event, demonstrating as well its relevance to our own Kabbalas HaTorah.
Is there benefit to performing Mitzvos blindly, without proper understanding?
The value of ‘Na’aseh V’Nishma’ is the unqualified acceptance of Divine command, whatever it may be.
This is a bit puzzling. Granted that obedience to Hashem is an admirable virtue, but would not performance be enhanced by an intellectual appreciation of Mitzvos’ inherent value?
In a recent discussion, a skeptic challenged my claim that Torah Judaism is a distinct system of belief; that is, we differ from the world even in areas where all else agree. He asked me to prove my assertion, via e-mail.
Attempting to answer his question, I realized this: my grasp of Torah is not predicated on intellectual understanding, but rather, it is intuitive, rooted in experience. The joy of studying a Blatt Gemara, or the clear recognition of its undeniable truth, cannot be transmitted to one familiar only with secular studies. For this reason, an agnostic often abandons his questions after spending time in the Bais HaMedrash. The unresolved problems suddenly lose significance after discovery of a higher truth.
‘Na’aseh V’Nishma’ is recognition that true understanding is achieved only after performance, for the world of the spirit cannot be accessed except through proper behavior. It is not mere obedience that is being praised, but the grasp of a deeper truth, a rejuvenated ‘Nishma’ that follows every ‘Na’aseh’.
Why do we atttach such significance to physical deeds? After all, the relationship with G-d is measured primarily by the sincerity in our hearts, a Mitzva performed by rote cannot connect one to his Creator.
Let’s compare the deeds of man to a blossoming fruit. While the inner sweetness is the grower’s ultimate aim, a fruit cannot develop without its protective cover. Though the shell has no inherent value, its presence is indispensable.
Man’s feelings and emotions are always temporary. Though at times of spiritual highs we are convinced of our righteousness, a religiousity anchored in emotion is destined to fade. As uplifting feelings recede, man has no physical basis by which to sustain his commitment. There is no guarantee that he will actually execute the will of G-d.
Angels never hesitate.
“Said Rebbe Elazar: at the moment Yisrael preceded ‘Nishma’ with ‘Na’aseh’, a voice descended from heaven and said to them: ‘Who has revealed to my children this secret that the attending angels utilize?’….” (Shabbos 88a)
Angels are G-d’s loyal and trusted agents, dedicated to proper performance. They are messengers, every fiber of their being identifiying with the present mission, hence, they don’t delay. For the same reason, they carry out only one function at a time.
When the B’nai Yisrael promised to do whatever G-d commands, irregardless of the difficulty, they successfully imitated the Malachim, willing to perform at a level beyond normal human capacity.
Actions then, have a value of their own, as man relates to a dimension where G-d’s will is clear and unquestioned. While proper understanding improves intent, it also allows for an element of subjectivity, the resulting Mitzva being an act of mortal man. The B’nai Yisrael strove for a higher plane of performance, deeds that would reflect the unity that is G-d’s word.
Why do we make promises? Or, declarations of loyalty?
If one is committed to a certain task, would it not be appropriate to ‘just do it’, as the advertisement goes? Why the need to talk about it?
Apparently, promises are necessary as an added incentive, motivating the inconsistent performer to at least keep his word.
Every promise then, is a sign of weakness, revealing a lack of absolute commitment.
The Jewish People stood at Har Sinai, ready to accept G-d’s word. They promise to adhere to His command, come what may. They declare their readiness to act as the angels, faithful and swift.
But man is no angel.
G-d presents man with a near-pefect world, leaving for man one slight detail, the actualization of G-d’s will in the physical realm. While all of creation functions in absolute terms, man alone has the ability to choose, the possibility of rejecting his G-d given assignment.
Until that point, man remains undefined, subject to change, rethinking every decision.
He may wish to improve, he may promise to be faithful, he may even truly believe the sincerity of his pledge, but it is still just unfullfilled words, a vow that may be broken.
In a sense, every pledge allows man to fool himself. Faced with neighbors who are donating to a worthy cause, his troublesome conscience demands that he do the same. He promises a healthy amount, and then fails to deliver. Why?
Motivated by a sense of guilt, he has made an honest commitment, but now that the pledge has been made, his conscience is satisfied. Nothing drives him to consummate the gift, to finish the task.
Klal Yisrael truly believes that they will be G-d’s trusted servants.
But, they are only human.
While angels are free to carry out G-d’s word, man struggles with the evil inclination that tests his every move.
In other words, they promise more than they can deliver.
With all sincerity, deep in their hearts they fool themselves. Understood in this vein, it is an attempt to fool G-d.
Herein lies the answer to our question: at times, efforts at self-improvement are a double-edged sword.
Man is justly proud of his achievement, the expressed commitment to better his ways. But this pride can lead to complacency, unless he comprehends that true success is marked only by promise that leads to deed. Until that point, unlike the Malachim, he must contend with the Yetzer Hara, the eternal foe.
Does anything remain of ‘Na’aseh V’Nishma’?
The tablets recieved on the first Chag HaShavuos were smashed into a heap at the foot of Har Sinai. The vaunted promise of the B’nai Yisrael lasts only till the first test, Moshe’s delayed descent, and with the sin of the Golden Calf they are forced to return their spiritual crowns.
However, though the Luchos may be broken, Ma’amad Har Sinai still stands. It remains engraved upon our hearts, an etching that can never be removed.
Though we are not angels, we long to be, yearning for the untainted innocence of those who never stray.
Each year we promise once again, renewing our acceptance of a law that will not be denied. With this, we merit Divine assistance, available to all who search for the D’var Hashem.
“U’Vau Kulam B’Bris Yachad, Na’aseh V’Nishma Amru K’Echad, U’Faschu V’amru ‘Hashem Echad’, Baruch HaNosein LaYa’ef Koach”v
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.