Naaseh V'nishma: Doing before understanding- relevant in the modern age
The Parasha in the daily life - Parashat Yitro - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – 5780
At the center of our Parasha is the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This was preceded by a Divine offer to the nations to receive the Torah, but only Israel agreed:
מְלַמֵּד, שֶׁהֶחֱזִיר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת הַתּוֹרָה עַל כָּל הָאֻמּוֹת וְלֹא קִבְּלוּהָ, עַד שֶׁבָּא אֵצֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְקִבְּלוּה
"This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, took the Torah around to every nation and those who speak every language, such as the Edomites in Seir and the Ishmaelites in Paran, but they did not accept it, until He came to the Jewish people and they accepted it (Avodah Zarah 2b).
It was an absolute acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot, binding, demanding and challenging. The reception was an angelic proclamation of "Naaseh V'nishma: Doing before understanding"! Unconditional and unreserved!
בשעה שהקדימו ישראל נעשה לנשמע יצתה בת קול ואמרה להן מי גלה לבני רז זה שמלאכי השרת משתמשין בו
"When the Jewish people accorded precedence to the declaration “We will do” over “We will hear,” a Divine Voice emerged and said to them: Who revealed to my children this secret that the ministering angels use?... At first, the angels fulfill His word, and then afterward they hearken" (Shabbat 88a).
Mount Sinai was a formative state. But unlike any other historical situations, this was not a one-time event, that made a one-time impression and as time goes by, causes the impression to fade away leaving only historical memory. Mount Sinai was a dynamic event that continues and influences every day, ever since, for three thousand three hundred thirty-two years.
The Torah mentions the commandment of the mitzvot in nineteen different places and at different times:
אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם
"this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day"
(and two in a slightly different form) even though it has been a while since the Torah was given:
בכל יום יהיו חביבין עליכם כאילו היום קבלתם אותם מהר סיני
"These are the laws … "that I set before you this day": Let them be as beloved by you as if you had received them this day at Mount Sinai, and let them be as fluent in your mouth as if you had heard them just today." (Devarim 11)
ומתחדש דבר זה תמיד, שאינו נפסק מישראל, אלא כענין שנאמר (דברים כז, ט), " הַיּ֤וֹם הַזֶּה֙ נִהְיֵ֣יתָֽ לְעָ֔ם" וגו' - שחייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו מקבל תורה מהר סיני (פסיקתא זוטא פ' ואתחנן), כי כל השבח הזה מתחדש לישראל דבר יום ביומו, ודבר בעתו:
…And this is always renewed, which does not stop Israel, but as if saying, "Today you have become the people of Hashem…" (Devarim 27: 9) - which requires a person to see himself as the recipient of the Torah from Sinai right then and there, because all this praise is renewed in Israel every single day…" (Ramhal Da'at Tevunoth).
At Mount Sinai, the Torah was given with ק֥וֹל גָּד֖וֹל וְלֹ֣א יָסָ֑ף "a mighty voice" (Devarim 5:19). But since the Divine Voice, this echo continues to be heard every day:
אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי, בְּכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם בַּת קוֹל יוֹצֵאת מֵהַר חוֹרֵב וּמַכְרֶזֶת וְאוֹמֶרֶת, אוֹי לָהֶם לַבְּרִיּוֹת מֵעֶלְבּוֹנָהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה.
"Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: every day a bat kol (a heavenly voice) goes forth from Mount Horeb and makes proclamation and says: “Woe unto humankind for their contempt towards the Torah". (Pirkei Avot 6:2)
Hence the relevance of the Torah commandments every day and in every generation, even after more than three thousand years. The challenge of accepting the yoke of mitzvot stems from the need to deal with the human tendency that seeks a comfortable and easy life and to reduce demanding obligations.
Over the years there have been great transformations in the world; In the fields of science, technology, geopolitics and culture. As a result, life patterns, ways of thinking, cultures, values and beliefs have changed as well.
At the turn of the century changes accelerated. There were dramatic developments in short periods of time. The world of the past and present gave way to the future and progress.
All these might mislead to think, that it is in the hands of man to make changes to the Torah from Sinai and its eternal commandments, and to disrespect the values and beliefs of the past.
Jews and Judaism’s exposure to modernity, have led some to argue that ideologically, for the Torah to still be relevant, it needs to be updated and adjustments need to be introduced in order to keep up with time.
Thirty years ago, Rabbi Soloveitchik, ZT’L, confronted a trend that had developed among American modern Orthodoxy in the United States to ask for changes and updates in certain Mitzvot. Speaking at a Rabbinical conference, which was later transcribed and titled "This is Sinai," he expressed himself very strongly against those who claim some things are irrelevant today, and seek to make changes.
Even today, here, in Israel, we are facing similar trends. It seems that the more we do in our everyday life, that has to do with progress and accelerated development, the greater the challenge and the tendency to convert the old into new.
This Shabbat, when we read about Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments, we will remind ourselves that the Torah is everlasting and relevant and has added value in modern life. It is the exclusive way of connecting with G-d thru faith, thoughts and deeds, in the correction of virtue and morality, of the individual and the congregation. And we will accept the yoke of the Mitzvot with love with the belief that
שֶׁזֹּאת הַתּוֹרָה לֹא תְהֵא מֻחְלֶפֶת וְלֹא תְהֵא תוֹרָה אַחֶרֶת מֵאֵת הַבּוֹרֵא יִתְבָּרַךְ שְׁמוֹ.
"This is the Torah, and it shall not be changed and it shall not be replaced with another from the Creator, blessed be His name… “