Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
The Gemara states: “When the Jews prefaced naaseh (we shall do) to nishma (we shall listen), malachim came and gave two crowns to every Jew, one for naaseh and one for nishma.” This text is problematic because it first implies that the Jews were rewarded for the order in which they spoke, yet it concludes that they received two crowns for both individual utterances. What follows is one explanation offered by the Rebbe.
Submitting by Logic
Naaseh means obeying, while nishma means comprehending. These are essentially the two models of serving Hashem: kabalas ol (obediently) and sechel (consentingly), and while both are necessary, it’s a question of which comes first.
When an intelligent child receives guidance from an adult with consistently positive results, he’ll conclude that even if the instructions seem utterly inexplicable on occasion, it’s fair to assume that the advice from his wise counselor must make sense on some level, and that he shouldn’t expect to understand everything at this young age. His very intellect concedes its own limitations.
Super-rational mitzvos like the para aduma can similarly be observed on an intellectual foundation without ever being understood: In view of the fact that Torah contains Hashem’s incomparable wisdom, we can conclude that everything we’re told is supported by some deep rationale, even if we aren’t capable of becoming privy to it, since it’s unreasonable for a human to expect to understand Hashem. In this case, our kabalas ol, acting without understanding, isn’t predicated purely on Hashem’s authority but on our own sechel, which led us to conclude that we shouldn’t expect to comprehend everything. This is nishma v’naaseh, where naaseh, kabalas ol, is the conclusion, but the basis is nishma, our own opinion.
Just Because He Said So
As the language of ‘v’al ha’nissim’ indicates, this attitude falls short of the mark. Chassidus teaches us that the Yevanim had no problem with Torah study, but their aim was “l’hashkicham torasecha” (your Torah), to make us forget that it’s Hashem’s Torah, and they weren’t offended by rational mitzvah observance, but they declared war against “chukei retzonecha” (your will), doing things purely because Hashem wants us to.
The Rebbe points out that “retzonecha” appears to repeat what’s already implied by “chukei,” and adds that even chukim would not have been a problem were they chalked up to our inability to understand everything, and it was specifically “retzonecha,” doing things purely because Hashem wants us to, that irked them. Nishma v’naaseh considers our own existence to be the starting point, and that’s not Yiddishkeit, but something even the Yevanim could agree to.
We are avadim, Hashem’s servants, and slaves don’t obey because their boss must be smarter than them. Naaseh comes first! We are no longer avdei Paraoh but avdei Hashem; we were previously enslaved to mitzrayim which represents our own metzius, and as long as we insisted on only doing what we agreed with, we were still slaves of our ego, (never mind that we typically mimic what we see others doing, no matter how irrational), but now we’re free of yeshus, and submissive and connected to Hashem, naaseh.
But even when nishma isn’t the basis for our actions, there is still a need to study Torah, because Matan Torah demands that naaseh result in nishma, that we ultimately understand. Because as obedient servants of Hashem, we observe tefillin because He wants us to, and we study Torah and engage in hisbonenus (contemplation) for the same reason. The Arizal states that just as the intention underlying acts like tefillin is that we’re performing a particular mitzvas aseh, the same applies during the mitzvos of meditating on “Shma . . Hashem echad” and experiencing “Ve’ahavta.”
This sounds strange since that sentiment seems more appropriate for an action than for an intellectual or emotional experience; how can we understand or feel something because we were told to?! But the truth is that our subservience to Hashem extends beyond our hands into our hearts and minds, and that’s what naaseh v’nishma is about. Nishma v’naaseh is putting ourselves and our opinions first, in the style of the Yevanim, while naaseh v’nishma places kabalas ol at the foundation of our actions and experiences.
To return to the Gemara we began with: A “crown” fits above our head, which is the seat of our intellect. In a case of nishma v’naaseh there are no grounds for being crowned, since the starting point is within the head, and the actions that follow are influenced by it. But naaseh v’nishma warrants two crowns: one for the transcendence of the mind inherent in naaseh, and the second for the incredible act of applying that kabalas ol to our understanding and love of Hashem, indicating that our entire metzius is in line with His wishes.
For further learning see ‘לקוטי שיחות חלק ד‘ שבועות א.