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Parashat Mishpatim- “We Will Do and We Will Hear”

Towards the end of Parashat Mishpatim, we read of Beneh Yisrael’s enthusiastic reaction when Moshe told them that they would be receiving the Torah, making the famous proclamation, "Na’aseh Ve’nishma" – "We will do and we will hear" (24:7). Beneh Yisrael pledged their commitment to the Torah even before hearing what was entailed.

This is commonly understood to mean that Beneh Yisrael had reached such a level of faith in Hashem that they trusted that anything He commanded them would be beneficial. We might draw a comparison to a person who is presented a contract to sign. Normally, he would not sign unless he carefully read over the entire document. But if he fully trusts the other party, he does not need to read the details, and is happy to sign without knowing everything that is written, because he fully trusts that the other party is not trying to deceive him or harm him in any way. Likewise, Beneh Yisrael fully trusted that anything Hashem would tell them to do is the best thing for them.

However, one of the early Hassidic scholars, Rabbi Moshe of Dolena (18th century), offers a deeper insight into the meaning and significance of "Na’aseh Ve’nishma." He explains that just as the body has needs, and it is instinctively drawn to satisfy those needs – such as for food, water and sleep – the soul, too, has needs, and, in principle, it is naturally drawn to fulfill those needs. In a perfect world, we would be instinctively pulled toward Misvot, because they are the nourishment that our souls require in order to survive. However, due to the complex relationship between the body and soul, we lose this instinct. Our preoccupation with our physical instincts creates "static" that disrupts the "frequency" of our souls, such that we do not feel drawn towards Misvot. The great Sadikim, however, feel these spiritual instincts. Abraham Avinu, for example, observed the Torah’s laws before they were given, because he reached the level of spiritual greatness where he was completely attuned to his soul, and was instinctively drawn to Misva performance.

The Talmud teaches that when Beneh Yisrael arrived at Mount Sinai, "Paseka Zehumatan" – the "filth" that entered mankind at the time of Adam and Havah’s sin was eliminated. They became pure and pristine, and they achieved the level where they were naturally and intuitively drawn to the Torah’s laws. Rav Moshe of Dolena explains on this basis the otherwise perplexing passage in the Haggadah, "If He had brought us to Mount Sinai but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough for us." Why would it have been enough for us to arrive at Mount Sinai without receiving the Torah? Rav Moshe of Dolena answers that while our ancestors stood at Mount Sinai, they reached the level where they would observe the Torah even without receiving its commands. And thus we exclaim, "Dayenu" – "it would have been enough for us," meaning, that experience would have sufficed for us to commit ourselves to the Torah, because that experience brought us to the level where we were naturally drawn to Misvot to satisfy our souls’ needs, just like we are naturally drawn to food to satisfy our bodies’ needs.

If so, Rav Moshe of Dolena writes, we can understand the pronouncement of "Na’aseh Ve’nishma." Beneh Yisrael were telling Moshe that they did not need to hear the Torah – because they now knew it instinctively. They were drawn to the Torah’s laws automatically, because they had become purified to the point where they felt a natural pull to the spiritual nourishment which their souls needed.

The obvious question then becomes, why did Hashem then give them the Torah? If Beneh Yisrael reached the point where they were naturally drawn to the Torah’s laws, realizing on their own that this is what their souls needed, then why did Hashem have to command them to perform the Misvot?

The answer, Rav Moshe of Dolena explains, stems from a teaching by his revered mentor, the Ba’al Shem Tob (1698-1760). The famous Halachic principle of "Sheluho Shel Adam Kemoto" establishes that one can appoint an agent to perform an action on his behalf, and the agent then becomes like him. The agent’s actions done on the sender’s behalf are considered to have been performed by the sender. As G-d has commanded us to perform the Misvot, the Ba’al Shem Tob said, we become, in a sense, like G-d when we fulfill them at His behest. Just as an agent is viewed like the one who sent him to perform the action, we are viewed like Hashem when we perform the actions He commanded us to perform. Hashem therefore commanded Beneh Yisrael to perform the Misvot – even though they reached the level where they would have done so on their own – in order for them to be elevated to great heights of Kedusha (sanctity), and resemble, in some small way, G-d Himself.

Of course, Beneh Yisrael did not remain on this lofty spiritual level. As we know all too well, we are no longer naturally drawn to do what our souls need to be sustained. But the way we can experience this level to some slight extent is through the study of Torah. When we learn Torah, we encounter Hashem in the most direct way we can. It is our opportunity to achieve "Debekut" – a true, genuine connection with the Creator. And so by devoting ourselves to Torah learning, we can, in some small measure, return to the lofty level of our ancestors at Sinai, and develop a natural love and passion for all the Misvot.

Parashat Behaalotecha- Rectification is Always Possible
Parashat Naso- Emuna First
Shavuot- Celebrating the Eternal Torah
Shavuot- The Challenge – and Rewards – of Torah Commitment
Parashat Behar- Experiencing the Sweetness and Delight of Torah
Parashat Emor- Keter Shem Tob 'The Crown of Good Reputation'
Parashat Ahare Mot- Planting Our Spiritual Trees
Parashat Shemini- Respect and Reverence in the Synagogue
Pesah: Redemption Then and Now
Pesah- Its A Mirage
Parashat Vayikra- The Triple Sin of Dishonesty
Parashat Pekudeh- Counting the Things That Matter
Parashat Ki Tisa- The Sanctity of Every Jew
Purim and the Sale of Yosef
Parashat Terumah- The Torah’s “Footsteps”
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