Knowing what you’re doing

The scion of the Soloveichik dynasty, Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev, better known by his work the Beis HaLevi, asks a question which is made remarkable in the originality of the answer. The parsha returns to the scene of Revelation and we are told that Moshe presented the Jewish People with the “Book of the Covenant” (i.e. Torah) to which the people replied “Na’aseh Ve’Nishma” – We will do and we will listen. The question which has been asked throughout the ages is why did the Jewish People answer in this order and not the reverse? After all, one must know what to do before one performs the relevant commandment.

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat relates that when the Jewish People placed the word Na’aseh before the word Ve’Nishma, two Heavenly angels descended to every Jewish individual and adorned them with two crowns. The Beis HaLevi observes that this Heavenly reaction was in response to the Jewish People purposely putting the profession to action first.

The Zohar itself expounds upon the Jewish People’s declaration: “We will do the good deeds and we will listen to the commandments of the Torah,” for the first word speaks to the performance of mitzvot while the second engenders acceptance of studying Torah.

Studying Torah has two aspects; the first is geared to knowing how to perform mitzvot, which all Jews are obligated in. The second aspect is the self-contained commandment of studying Torah. According to the Beis HaLevi, declaring action before study shows that the study is of inherent value, and is not just a means to an end.

Rav Chaim Sabato of Ma’aleh Adumim quotes Rav Kook in Orot HaTorah to say, “placing the word na’aseh before nishma demonstrates that the appreciation of Torah for its supernal, Heavenly qualities should exceed than for its practical applications that derive from its study. Since the word Na’aseh was already mentioned, the bond between practical learning was already included. The word Nishma on the other hand, pertains to the spiritual, transcendent nature of Torah. The ‘listening’ that was promised comes after the initial action, but expresses the value of learning Torah for its own sacred sake which is of a much higher spiritual level than the practical stusy that serves as a preparation to action alone.

About the Author
David Gross was born in Geneva and grew up in London. He graduated from UCL in 2010 with a B.A. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He has previously served as Southern Fieldworker of Bnei Akiva UK. He has studied and taught in Yeshivat HaKotel, and currently teaches in Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He will be starting an MBA at Bar Ilan in the coming academic year.
Related Topics
Related Posts