Na’aseh v’nishmah - This most notable Jewish phrase appears at the end of this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, which outlines fifty-three of our most significant commandments or mitzvot. Na’aseh v’nishmah means, we will do and we will hear, or we will do and we will understand. Volumes have been written about the meaning of this very short, but important phrase.
Interestingly, in na’aseh v’nishmah, doing, or taking action, comes before understanding, which may seem counterintuitive. Normally we want to understand something before we jump in and act, look before you leap. I believe the reversal of action, before understanding, or hearing, speaks to the intent that Judaism is a religion of deed, first and foremost. Our mitzvot are ones that require our active participation, perhaps before we even understand why. I don’t think this means that Judaism necessarily requires blind faith, but it does mean that we must participate actively in Judaism in order to appreciate fully its depth and scope.
I also think that acting first does not mean that we do so without thinking. It means that we always act according to what is just and right based on principles, morals, and our text as a compass. We let our Jewish values guide our living so that our actions speak of goodness, mercy, compassion and kindness.
I often find comfort within our rich and meaningful text and this has been one of those weeks when I have looked for words of hope and encouragement. As I think about the importance of acting with goodness and righteousness in our hearts, I was left deeply saddened and distraught when I, along with people all over the country, learned of a vulnerable 9-year-old girl being pepper sprayed in police custody. Also, last week recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which makes me stir again with disbelief over the genocidal horrors.
Then I started reading commentary about na’aseh v’nishmah and I couldn’t help but wonder how our world would look different if we acted out of good deeds, always. If we trusted each other enough to know that doing the right thing and taking the high road ultimately leads to understanding. If we give each other the benefit of the doubt, before we leap to judgement. If we love the other as ourselves, before we put up barriers. Maybe this would be a world where a 9-year-old is spoken to at her level, rather than being treated as a criminal. Where people are not killed because of their religion. Where people are not pre-judged by the color of their skin. Where deeds are more valued than gender. Where acts of loving kindness are the most trusted commodity.
Positive action, based in goodness, provides the greatest opportunity to make our world healthy and strong. Before we can say, “I hear you” it means we must have tried to walk in some else’s shoes. This is what I was once again reminded of this week. The lesson could not have come at a better time. Na’aseh v’nishmah.