Those magic words uttered by Klal Yisrael when they were offered the Torah were much more than an expression of love, trust, and devotion to Hashem. The words Naaseh V’Nishmah did not rise out of starry-eyed innocence. Rather, they spoke of a firm understanding of a way to serve G-d that most of us can hardly imagine.
Naaseh V’Nishmah expressed the idea that listening was an irrelevant process for them. The naaseh, the doing, could proceed without recourse to the listening, because the ultimate reality of their lives was Hashem’s Will. Nothing else existed – certainly not in formulating their reactions to things. Whatever He willed is what would happen – not only because it trumped all other considerations, but because those competing considerations had ceased to exist. It was, as Chazal say, the by-word of the malachim, because as part of the Upper Worlds, there was no gap at all between Hashem’s wish, and its translation into reality. Nothing intervened; nothing distracted; nothing interfered. This, too, is what the Bnei Yisrael pledged. Hashem’s Will would be everything, without need for anything else. It alone would determine their actions, which would follow without hesitation.
Nishmah would be secondary. Listening would happen after the deed, as Hashem described for them what it was that they accomplished. Or, perhaps, the listening would be a back-up, available for the times that they would not be able to function on the highest plane of unadulterated naasheh. (This Plan B may have Hashem’s intent in holding the mountain over their heads, ensuring that if naaseh failed, there would still be a nishmah.)
The madregah of naaseh was lost to the Bnei Yisrael as a consequence of the eigel hazahav. It never disappeared, however, from Moshe Rabbenu, who possessed it both before and after.
Before – as in his freshman encounter with Hashem at the Burning Bush. Presented with the mission of redeeming Israel, Moshe spurned the idea. Moshe sensed that Hashem’s actual Will was that the full four hundred years of exile should be completed for the fullness of His plan to be actualized. Reducing the number of years, hastening the redemption, was pragmatically necessary. Without it, a Jewish people would not have remained to be redeemed. But this was not the way things should have been. If the full term would have been completed, the final redemption would have taken place much earlier! Moshe sensed what Hashem really wanted – and could not be happy with a compromise. The Will of Hashem was that the exile not end at that time! Therefore, Moshe kept resisting the role of human deliverer of the people from bondage.
After the chet as well – as shown by the way he was addressed by Hashem. “Vayikra” was an expression of Divine love for Moshe. It corresponded to Moshe’s madregah of naaseh, which remained with him, alongside his nishmah. Hashem’s continued revelation of more Torah to him addressed both aspects of his connection to G-d: both the naaseh and the nishmah.
His primary orientation, however, was naaseh. This was reflected during the week of the inauguration of the mishkan, when Moshe briefly served as the kohen gadol. He did not wear the distinctive garments of the kohen gadol, however, but the simple, white garments of the ordinary kohen. White contains all colors; when it is broken up, it yields the rich hues of the spectrum. Moshe represented the simplicity of the monolithic naaseh. Every kohen gadol after him would oversee the complexity of the avodah of the mikdash. Serving Hashem would ramify into myriad details, like colors breaking off from the fundamental whiteness. The special garments of the kohen gadol, colorful and complex, visually represented that complexity. They were suitable for Aharon, who would preside over an avodah of nishma, of listening to complex and detailed Divine instruction. Moshe, whose naaseh led him to resist Hashem’s offer at the sneh to lead the people out of exile, was punished for his refusal. He had to witness the leadership – at least that of nishma – pass on to Aharon.
The attitude of Nadav and Avihu, the way Chazal depict it, makes them look like terrible children. “When will the two old ones die, and the two of us will assume the leadership of the world?” In truth, this attitude was an expression of their greatness. They, like Moshe, lived on the plane of naaseh. They witnessed the older generation, seemingly content to keep their focus on nishma. They were profoundly unhappy with this. Their generation ought to be able to do better – at least if they had the proper leadership. They, Nadav and Avihu, thought that they could lead the people to live lives of naaseh.
In fact, however, the people were not ready for it. They still needed lots of nishma. Any attempt to eliminate it was “a foreign flame.”
- Based on Mei Maron, Vayikra Maamar 7 ↑
- Shabbos 88A ↑
- Rashi, Vayikra 1:1 ↑
- Sanhedrin 52A ↑
- Vayikra 10:1 ↑