Parasha Inspiration – Mishpatim

וַיִּקַּח֙ סֵ֣פֶר הַבְּרִ֔ית וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע:

And he took the Book of the Covenant and read it within the hearing of the people, and they said, “All that the Lord spoke we will do and we will hear.”

– Exodus 24:7

This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most pivotal statements in all of Torah. Naase v’nishma, we will do and we will hear. This phrase is spoken by the children of Israel after Moses has read the book of the covenant before them. Moses reads the book, and they respond: we will do and we will hear.

What is the book of the covenant that was read? Clearly Moses is talking about reading the Torah. But, not all of the Torah. Much of the events in the Torah had not yet come to pass, so it was not the entire Torah that was read. What, then, is referred to as the book of the covenant?

Many commandments were given at Masah. Fifty-three of those commandments are in this week’s Torah portion. But, there are many other commandments that were given prior to the receiving of Torah at Sinai. The commandment for Shabbat, tefillin, and circumcision were all given prior to Sinai. All of these were included in Moses’ reading of the book of the covenant. The children of Israel heard the reading and we responded: we will do and we will hear. We did not say we will hear and we will do, we said we will do and we were hear. This is a very basic principle in Jewish thought. Loving Hashem means that you do what he asks. You may not understand the commandment, you may not understand the covenant, regardless, you follow his commandments.

The following of the commandments will help bring understanding. We may not understand them initially, but in doing comes understanding. The observance of the commandments is imperative whether we understand them or not.

The doing of the commandments implies two separate components of observance. First, the commandment must be done by the nation of Israel, properly. In order for the doing of the commandment to be valid, it must be done with all Israel. Not doing the commandment with all Israel nullifies the command. It is called pasul, i.e. the observance is invalid. Second, the commandment must be performed with the right heart. Not performing the commandment with the right heart makes the observance pigul, also invalid. (There is a distinction in Hebrew, between the two different types of invalidity. Pasul is invalidity by incorrect observance, pigul is invalidity due to wrong heartedness in the observance).

The doing of the commandments does not require understanding. Rather, understanding comes through the observance of the mitzvot and through study. The level of understanding the mitzvot will vary between people. A young child may understand less, an elder sage may understand more. The understandings in each case do not affect the observance of them. As long as the observance is neither pasul nor pigul, the observance is valid. It is not necessary to be a Torah scholar to observe the mitzvot. People with learning deficits may certainly observe the mitzvot as fully and is completely as any sage. It is always good to strive to understand the mitzvot, but the understanding is not a requirement of the observance. We will do and we will hear. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.