Some Implications of Na'aseh v'Nishmah:
- Learning to Trust and Trusting to Learn
Ritual: What’s the Point?
Following in Ruth’s Footsteps - Taking the Next Step
- Compare the Israelites' response in verse 3 and verse 7 - "na'aseh" and "na'aseh v'nishmah".
- What does the extra word "v'nishmah" imply about how the Israelites will accept the Torah?
Talk It Out
- These texts praise the Israelites for saying Na'aseh v'Nishmah and accepting the Torah before they heard everything that it contained. Do you think their action was praiseworthy?
- What kind of relationship do you need to have with someone in order to say Na'aseh v'Nishmah?
According to the Sefer HaChinuch, what is the point of rituals and mitzvot (commandments)?
- Do you agree that ultimately "the heart follows the actions a person does"? Is it what you do that determines what kind of person you are?
The Midrash, expanding on the passage from the book of Ruth that is quoted above, sees Ruth's words to her mother-in-law as full expression of her intent to convert. Without fully understanding the details of what a Jewish life entails, she tells her mother-in-law that this is her plan. Naomi begins to list some of the laws that Ruth claims to accept, and Ruth, without questioning or knowing what these will feel like experientially, agrees without hesitation. Why do you think that Ruth was willing to accept the laws without fully understanding? What might motivate a person to commit so fully to a new lifestyle?
Rashbam, a medieval commentator on the Torah, understands the commitment of the Jews at Sinai to be something that reaches far into the future as well. "Na'aseh V'Nishmah" indicates that we are all in this together, not only in that moment at Sinai, but also in terms of laws and events that will transpire in the future. Does this idea resonate with you? Have you committed to your relationship with Judaism - or to some other relationship - regardless of what will come in the future?
The end of this Talmudic story contains an ironic twist: Ultimately, all the rabbis agree with Rabbi Akiva that study is greater, but only because it "brings about action." In other words, action is ultimately most important, if study can inspire people towards action, then it is crucial. In the spirit of Na'aseh V'Nishmah, we often forge ahead with action, but it is also important to know that we have a tradition of study to fall back on when we do pause to consider those actions. Are there things that you do or practices you engage in which you learned more about later in life - or which you would want to learn more about?
Doing and Hearing (Mishpatim 5776)
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
[N]a’aseh venishma means, “We will do and we will understand.” From this they derive the conclusion that we can only understand Judaism by doing it, by performing the commands and living a Jewish life. In the beginning is the deed. Only then comes the grasp, the insight, the comprehension. This is a signal and substantive point. The modern Western mind tends to put things in the opposite order. We seek to understand what we are committing ourselves to before making the commitment. That is fine when what is at stake is signing a contract, buying a new mobile phone, or purchasing a subscription, but not when making a deep existential commitment. The only way to understand leadership is to lead. The only way to understand marriage is to get married. The only way to understand whether a certain career path is right for you is to actually try it for an extended period. Those who hover on the edge of a commitment, reluctant to make a decision until all the facts are in, will eventually find that life has passed them by. The only way to understand a way of life is to take the risk of living it. So: na’aseh venishma, “We will do and eventually, through extended practice and long exposure, we will understand.”....There is a normative way of doing the holy deed, but there are many ways of hearing the holy voice, encountering the sacred presence, feeling at one and the same time how small we are yet how great the universe we inhabit, how insignificant we must seem when set against the vastness of space and the myriads of stars, yet how momentously significant we are, knowing that God has set His image and likeness upon us and placed us here, in this place, at this time, with these gifts, in these circumstances, with a task to perform if we are able to discern it. We can find God on the heights and in the depths, in loneliness and togetherness, in love and fear, in gratitude and need, in dazzling light and in the midst of deep darkness. We can find God by seeking Him, but sometimes He finds us when we least expect it. That is the difference between na’aseh and nishma. We do the Godly deed “together”. We respond to His commands “with one voice”. But we hear God’s presence in many ways, for though God is One, we are all different, and we encounter Him each in our own way.
Rabbi Sacks points to two important aspects of Na'aseh V'Nishmah: First, that one can only understand the Jewish experience by living it, not by studying it. Judaism is full of ritual, food, song - things that can only be truly understood through experience. Rabbi Sacks also explains that the final word, nishma, is in the singular, because we each "hear" or experience the Divine in our own way. We dive into action together, and we may not all emerge with the same understanding of what those actions signify. What Jewish ritual or action is especially meaningful to you? Is it something that brings you a sense of the Divine or of spiritual connection?