I feel that the truest understanding of “Na’aseh V’Nishma, We will do and we will listen,” can be derived from the Rambam in Hilchot Me’ilah (8:8):
Each person should study the laws of the Torah, and endeavor to understand them in relation to their intellectual capabilities. Yet if we find that we cannot understand, this should not lead us to ridicule. We should not think that Torah study is similar to regular academics. (If we do not comprehend human formulae it is quite possible that they are incorrect; that which is proven by one man can be disproved by another. However, this is not so with the works of Hashem. It is not just possible, but quite likely, that there will be times when we simply cannot fathom the meaning behind a given principle. However, we must remind ourselves that we are dealing with the words of Hashem, and we are therefore limited in our abilities to fully comprehend them.)
Rambam is giving us a very clear formula on how to approach Torah. Yes, we are obliged to search. Yes, we are obliged to strive for truth. However, if we do not find the answers we are looking for we must conclude that it is due to our human limitations, and not due to a lack of truth in the Torah.
I think this message can also be derived from a prayer we say at the end of Shacharit. The prayer begins with the phrase, “Ein Kailokeinu, there is no other like our God.” In the next sentence we ask, “Mi Kailokeinu, who is like our God?” Surely one would expect the prayer to firstly pose the question and then supply the answer? I think this prayer is a clear reflection of the Rambam quoted above.
You may ask as many questions as you like. In fact, you should ask as many questions as you like. However, the prerequisite to those questions is that you fully understand there is indeed no other like our God. That is the essence of our faith. We continue to believe even when we don’t understand.
This prayer is a statement of our faith. It therefore comes as no surprise to reveal that the first letters of the first three verses form the word “Amen.” The prayer is the absolute definition of our relationship with Hashem.
“Na’aseh V’Nishma” is the practical application of the above theory. Am Yisrael at Har Sinai accepted to first do, then study. We are committed to do whatever Hashem requires of us. We are also committed to studying and understanding His ways. However, if there is ever any conflict between the two; if ever our limited understanding conflicts with what Hashem requires, we will do, even when human logic demands the opposite approach. We will always listen to Torah.
Towards the end of Sefer Vayikra (Parashat Behar), we are introduced to the detailed laws of the sabbatical year, shemitah. Many commentators ask why the Torah specifically juxtaposes Mount Sinai to the commandments involving shemitah at the end of Vayikra, after many other mitzvot have already been explained. As Rashi himself asks, “What is the particular relevance of shemitah to Har Sinai. Were not all mitzvot given at Mount Sinai?” (Vayikra 25:1).
Having understood “Na’aseh V’Nishma” the answer is obvious. The sabbatical year is a year that demands absolute faith, not in theory but in practice. It is a year when we abandon our agricultural and material worth, and rely solely on God. Indeed, there is no greater application of “Na’aseh V’Nishma” than the sabbatical year. The mitzvah of shemitah is the ultimate enactment of the theoretical ideal, hence the Torah directly associates it with Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.
Rabbi David Milston is director of the Overseas Program at Midreshet HaRova. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).
The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.