STATE OF THE UNION
He stands in front of the nation, speaking both to those directly before him and those watching and listening from afar. He elucidates his implementation of the plan which will guarantee his nation's future, examining each segment carefully.
He stands in front of the nation, speaking both to those directly before him and those watching and listening from afar. He elucidates his implementation of the plan which will guarantee his nation's future, examining each segment carefully. Analytical, step-by-step descriptions are given of the strategy he will employ to lead his nation, the strongest of all nations, to a world of prosperity and abundance. No, this is not Bill Clinton giving his State of the Union Address; rather, I am writing of Moses and the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai.
The Jewish people's initial response to Moses' presentation of the Divine covenant in last week's Torah portion of Yitro was to proclaim, "Everything that Hashem has spoken na'aseh, we will do" (Exodus 19:8). Toward the end of this week's portion of Mishpatim, Moses presents to them "all of the words of Hashem and all of the mishpatim (ordinances)," which they commit to perform, and they declare once again: "na'aseh - we will do" (ibid. 24:3).
Then, a few verses later, Moses reads them the "Book of the Covenant" and their response is different: "Na'aseh v'nishma - We will do and we will listen" (ibid. 24:7). How does the reaction of the Jewish people in Parshat Mishpatim differ from their reaction in Parshat Yitro? What is the significance to the addition of the word v'nishma, we will listen?
Rabbi Chaim Marder, a contemporary Torah scholar, explains that Mt. Sinai is not just the place where the Torah was given; it was the moment of Divine revelation. This revelation culminated not with the receiving of the Ten Commandments, but with the acceptance of their details, of the mishpatim - the Jewish civil code - which we read this week. In the presentation of the covenant in Parshat Yitro, Hashem promises the Jewish people that not only will they be His "am segulah - cherished nation," but also a "mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh - a kingdom of priests and a holy people" (ibid. 19:6). With their initial willingness, in Parshat Yitro, to accept the Torah - na'aseh, we will do - the Jewish people became G-d's cherished nation. With Moses' presentation of the Jewish civil code in this week's portion, and with the Jewish people's commitment to observe them, to listen and give their ear to His words - na'aseh v'nishma - they became a kingdom of priests and a holy people.
What is the significance of the phraseology na'aseh v'nishma - we will do and we will listen? The Midrash quotes the following statement of Rav Simlai: "It is written, 'Kol Hashem bako'ach - the voice of G-d is with power' - that is, according to the power of each individual, according to the individual power of the young, the old, and the very small." Each Jew has a unique level of intensity to his Divine experience. Each individual comprehends and appreciates Hashem in a different way. The nature of the voice of G-d is relative to the power of each individual.
Thus, the dual nature of the revelation at Mt. Sinai broadens the meaning of na'aseh v'nishma as opposed to simply na'aseh. First, a uniform set of principles for everyone (na'aseh), expressed in the generalities of the Ten Commandments and the specifics of the civil code. Then, a second layer of the revelation was added, an awareness of and a connection to the Divine (v'nishma), with every Jew accessing his own personal avenue to Hashem, be it through Torah study, prayer, acts of loving kindness to others, charity, or any of the other myriad ways we have to serve Hashem. The challenge which we must embrace from this portion is to reconnect ourselves with the experience at Mt. Sinai, to partake of the covenant, to become - each of us in his own unique fashion - closer to Hashem in our daily lives, no matter where we are or what we are doing. When we appreciate the full extent of the commitment of na'aseh v'nishma - we will do and we will listen - we not only carry out our mandate as a holy nation of priests, but we continue to experience that unique revelation that has guided our people though the past and continues to guide us through the present and the generations ahead.
Josh Hartman, a Yeshiva Atlanta graduate, writes from New York.
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