In Parshat Mishpatim, the Torah says, “And he took the book of the covenant and read it in the ears of the people. And they said, ‘Everything that God has spoken we will do and we will hear’” (24:7). The Beit HaLevi gives a beautiful explanation of this Pasuk. The Talmud states that “At the time when Israel preceded the ‘we will do’ to the ‘we will hear,’ 600,000 angels descended and affixed 2 crowns to each Jew, one for ‘we will do’ and one for ‘we will hear.’” The two crowns were earned not by the two phrases employed by the Jews, but by the fact that the “we will do” preceded the “we will hear”. Had it not been for this particular sequence, they would have been given only the one crown. Why did they respond in this particular way, and why was this order important?
According to the Zohar, the “we will do” refers to the performance of Mitzvot, while the “we will hear” refers to the words of the Torah. With the first phrase, the Jews agreed to the observance of the 613 commandments, and with the second phrase, they agreed to study the Torah. The study of the Torah involves two distinct components. Study of Torah is a necessary prerequisite to the observance of Mitzvot. One cannot keep the Mitzvot without knowing what they are, and that knowledge requires Torah study. But the study of Torah is more than just a sine qua non for the observance of Mitzvot. Torah study is a Mitzvah in its own right. Therefore, the study of Mitzvot with no practical application is also a Mitzvah.
Had Bnei Yisrael said, “we will hear and we will do”, this would have implied an acceptance of only the commandments. Torah study, the “we will hear”, would have been taken as the preparatory step to the “we will do” of the Mitzvot. But having said, “we will do”, they accepted upon themselves the doing of the Mitzvot as well as the necessary “learning” about the Mitzvot that permits the doing. When they then added, “we will hear”, they accepted the need to study the Torah as an independent act, unrelated to the fulfillment of other Mitzvot. And they therefore were crowned with two separate crowns.
This idea, says the Beit HaLevi, explains the Gemara in Nedarim 81a, which teaches that Eretz Yisrael was destroyed as a punishment for the fact that the people did not say the blessing that is to be recited before studying the Torah. This is a strange notion. The people were apparently not taken to task for not studying the Torah, but for omitting the Bracha preceding its learning. Why was this sin considered so serious that it warranted destroying the Land of Israel?
The Talmud in Menachos 42b states the rules governing the recital of a Bracha. Whenever the action being performed directly is itself the fulfillment of a Mitzvah, a Bracha is recited. However, if the action is merely a preparatory step necessary for the performance of a Mitzvah, but is not a Mitzvah in itself, no blessing is required. Therefore, there is no Mitzvah for the building of a Sukkah, which is only a preparation for a Mitzvah, not a Mitzvah in itself.
By omitting the Bracha before studying the Torah, the people clearly articulated their belief that they regarded their Torah study as a preparatory step for the doing of Mitzvot. If they had acknowledged Torah study as a Mitzvah in and of itself, they would have certainly recited the Bracha before engaging in learning. It was this attitude that caused the destruction of the Land of Israel, not the omission itself. Only the valuing of Torah, coupled with the performance of Mitzvot, ensures the survival of the Land of Israel and the People of Israel.