I have been struggling a lot recently with the idea of na’aseh v’nishma. The words said by the Israelites when G-d gave us the Torah, literally translated, mean “we will do and we will listen”; on a more philosophical level, however, rabbis and scholars point to the order of these two words. Why do we “do” first, and “listen” second? Wouldn’t it make more sense to first listen, then do? Aren’t we taught from a young age to think before we act? Furthermore, doesn’t this conflict with kavanah, or the idea that we must do things with intention?
While doing a text study with my friend, I brought up these thoughts I have been troubled by. We dove right into the text, looking at the part in Exodus where these words are spoken, as well as the lines before and after. Despite our interesting conversations, this traditional text study was not getting any closer to answering the question, and so my chavruta suggested we look at the gematria of the two words.
To be honest, I was skeptical (sorry, Matt). I did not know how adding up the numbers assigned to each letter in the phrase would help me to make sense of these conflicting feelings I have been experiencing. However, I indulged him and together we found the gematria of na’aseh v’nishma: 891.
The number meant nothing to me, but we were not ready to give up. Still skeptical, I consulted Rav Google without very high expectations of finding another word or phrase with the same gematria.
Needless to say, I was blown away by the answer.
In my search, I found that there are a few phrases that also have a gematria of 891. One in particular blew my mind: yitziyat Mitzrayim – exodus from Egypt.
Mitzrayim (Egypt) is often understood not just as the physical place where Jews were forced into slavery, but as any place or thing that is constricting us. We each have our own personal Mitzrayim, something holding us back from achieving our full potential. This is one explanation for why we talk about our exodus from Egypt so often – because we are all still being freed today. Our exodus is both past and present, communal and individual, divine and deeply personal.
I am still struggling with na’aseh v’nishma, and how it conflicts with kavanah. I did not find an answer to my original question, but rather the answer to a question I did not even know I had.
“We will do and we will listen” and “exodus from Egypt” are, in all intents and purposes, equal. The blind faith that I struggle with so much is what will set me free from my own personal Mitzrayim. Whatever it is that is holding me back can only be overcome if I let go of my doubts, and remember that it is sometimes okay to “do” first and “listen” later. We must have faith, not only in G-d, but in ourselves as well if we are ever going to be free.