Midrash Mishpatim: Do, Be. Do, Be, Do

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Which comes first: the doing or the understanding?

That’s the issue posed by Exodus 24:7, the Israelites’ reply to Moses’ reading of the record of the Covenant, or Ten Commandments (which we learned about in last week’s portion): “All that YHVH has spoken, we will do and we will hear/understand (kol asher dibber YHVH na’aseh v’nishma).”

Taken at face value, this seems counterintuitive. How can we do something we don’t understand? But Rabbi Harold Kushner, writing in Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, says “There are many things in life that we cannot appreciate before we have lived them and come to appreciate their value. We must do them first (na’aseh) and only afterward realize why (nishma).”

Meditation. Trying new experiences or cuisines. Even raising children. All of these things and more can only be understood in the doing, over time. The actual and full understanding comes afterward.

May we each merit to understand what we do, even if we’re not (at first) sure why.

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