By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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
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
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
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
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
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
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