Discipline, long-term dedication, and unswerving loyalty are precious commodities. As the years pass, it seems more difficult to find these qualities amongst mankind. Technological breakthroughs such as the information superhighway have stunned the world. We have gone from megahertz to gigahertz in a very short time. If you cannot point and click your way through something rather rapidly, the work becomes tedious. “Slow and steady” no longer wins the race in our modern society.
Along comes our Parsha and praises our people for what may be known as the ultimate statement of loyalty and dedication: נעשה ונשמע, “We will do, and we will listen.” In 24:7, Bnai Yisrael respond to the giving of the Luchot at Har Sinai by saying that they will not make understanding a prerequisite for their performance of Mitzvot. They will perform the commandments even though they do not understand them at first. Such an attitude does not develop overnight. The period of slavery in Mitzrayim, the plagues, and the ensuing salvation cemented a relationship with Hashem; Bnai Yisrael all saw His Mighty Hand.
The Gemara in Shabbat (88a) tells us the following in the name of Rabbi Elazar: “At the time that Israel preceded ‘we will do’ to ‘we will listen,’ a Heavenly voice went out and said to them, ‘Who revealed to My children this secret that the ministering angels use?’” This rhetorical question seems to be a compliment: Bnai Yisrael acted as the angels do. We somehow discovered their level and secret of obedience.
Rav Baruch Epstein, in his Torah Temimah, explains that only mankind has the need for understanding before acceptance. However, the nature of the ministering angels is not so. They are totally spiritual and are not subject to time; therefore, their understanding and acceptance come simultaneously. Who gave Bnai Yisrael the strength to feel something that had been reserved for the ministering angels? Rav Epstein crystallizes the level that our people reached at that time. The relationship seems to be one of דביקות – clinging to the Almighty.
The attainment of this level comes with great responsibility on our part. All too often we expect our youth to follow in our religious footsteps. We put on Tefillin, Daven, sing, and study Torah with great enthusiasm and expect the same from our children. Students are instructed to Daven, and children are expected to accompany parents to Shul on Shabbat. This is the protocol; this is who we are. We are comfortable with our obedience and cannot imagine anything but that for our children. Does anyone ask why a rook cannot move diagonally? We find out what to do and then we play. Should we treat religion the same way? נעשה ונשמע tells us the opposite! Surely, at the incipient stages of development a child cannot understand Davening or Mitzvot very deeply. We all start out, in some way, with obedience because understanding comes with time. After the early, formative years, the child starts to wonder what is behind these acts and rituals that are performed. If left in the dark, the child’s performance becomes habitual and empty, void of any growth towards Hashem.
Our Parsha is telling us that the kind of obedience that Bnai Yisrael had was an acquired one. How can we expect our youth to appreciate Davening if they do not have the foggiest idea as to what the Tefilot mean? Indeed, all actions cannot be predicated on total understanding or nothing would ever be accomplished. However, we must constantly nurture the hearts and minds of our youth through teachers, friends, and family. The road to נעשה ונשמע is paved with the rare commodities of discipline and dedication. May we all merit to be vehicles for future generations in this pursuit.