For the week ending 15 May 2010 / 1 Sivan 5770

Hearing and Doing

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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"Na'aseh V'Nishma!"

"We will do and we will hear!"

This was the response of our ancestors to the offer made by G-d of His Torah. Our celebration of the Festival of Shavuot focuses on the precious gift we received at Sinai as a result of that response.

The simple meaning of this response was that we were different from the other nations who first asked to hear what the Torah demanded of them and turned down the offer as a result. The Jewish People, however, declared that they had such faith that G-d would only require of them what was for their ultimate benefit that they were prepared to accept the Torah before even hearing what those requirements were.

There is, however, another perspective to the commitment made at Sinai, which is based on a Midrash that presents the following parable:

A king gave a servant two precious goblets to bring to his palace ahead of him and urged him to be very careful with them. As the servant was about to enter the palace he tripped over a calf lying in the way and one of the goblets fell and broke. Struck with fear as to what the king would say the servant stood in his place trembling in anticipation. When the king approached him and asked why he was trembling the servant explained what had happened. To the servant's surprise the king merely said: "If you have only one goblet left make sure to guard it even more carefully lest it too break."

When Jews said, "We will do and we will hear", they received two precious goblets – one of hearing the Divine wisdom of the Torah and another of doing what its mitzvot dictated. The collision with the golden calf weakened their ability to perform in accordance with the King's commands. It then became imperative for them to carefully guard the surviving goblet representing their ability to connect with the King through hearing Him speak to them through the words of the Torah.

Those who have the good fortune to be involved in the teshuva revolution of our generation have learned that the road to return begins with the study of Torah, which eventually leads to fulfillment of mitzvot. The wisdom and sanctity of Torah study strike a responsive chord in the soul of an alienated Jew. It may indeed be said that the formula for outreach today is based on the reverse of that original commitment and takes the form of "we will hear and we will do."

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