Midreshet Amit


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The most famous event in history that never happened

By: Mrs. Geula Twersky

Taken from Amittah Shel Torah

One of the most famous events in history to never happen is the Jewish People's saying "naaseh v’nishmah" prior to hearing the words of God at Sinai. The Torahactually tells of three responses. The first was (19:8): And the whole nation answered together and said: “all that Hashem said we will do.”

The second (24:3), was after the Torah was given:  And Moshe came and told the nation all the words of Hashem and the laws, and the people responded with one voice, “All that Hashem said we will do”.

The plain sense [see Ramban, in contrast to Rashi] is that this was after Moshe told us the Decalogue (divrei Hashem) and the contents of Mishpatim (v’et kol hamishpatim). Despite this, the answer remains naaseh. It is only the third time (24:7), after the Torah was written down and read, that we responded naaseh v’nishmah: And he took the book of the covenant and he read it to the nation, and they said: all that Hashem said we will do and listen to”.

In light of this, it is hard to say that the literal meaning of naaseh v’nishmah is that we accepted the Torah ‘sight unseen.’  We did accept it blindly, as the first naaseh was prior to hearing the contents of the Torah. The slogan naaseh v’nishmah therefore does captures the essence of the event. However, this is not the phrase’s original meaning.  In any case, we are left to consider the meaning of naaseh v’nishmah. We also must ask ourselves why it changes from naaseh to naaseh v’nishmah the third time around.

The answer seems to be that the writing down of the mitzvot (described in chap. 24) is a watershed event. The mitzvot had been, until that point, isolated commands given to the Jewish people by a navi. The command of a navi is, by definition, limited to its precise parameters. One cannot extrapolate from it to other situations, times or places. The appropriate response to such a command can only be naaseh. Once the mitzvot were written down, they were integrated and become the Torah. They were no longer isolated commands of a navi, they form a holistic system. They are now not only to be obeyed, but to be studied, understood and applied. This is the meaning of naaseh v’nishmah. Lishmoah means to understand. This is the new challenge that was given to man at this point. From then on, it isn’t in heaven. This is what changed from the naaseh of v. 4 to the naaseh v’nishmah of v. 7.

We can now understand why the parshah opens with the discussion between Yitro and Moshe about the court system. The relevance of this section is an issue in general, especially if one takes the position that the actual chronology is being ignored here. The advice of Yitro is a very appropriate opening for the parshah. The reason for this is that the original system was predicated on the idea that every new case required the involvement of Moshe Rabbeinu as a conduit between God and man. This was certainly true so long as the system involved commands of a navi. Once there was an organic body of Torah, it was possible for judges to learn the divine principles and apply them. This was Yitro’s suggestion, which dovetailed perfectly with the innovation of Sinai.

In other words, what we gained at Sinai was the ability to interpret and apply the meaning of the Torah.