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Na’aseh Venishma! We Will Do and We Will Listen!

We will now relate all of this to the Rebbe Maharash and his idea of l’chatchila ariber, and then try to see what that means for us practically, giving us some inspiration of direction. 


We will begin with another idea expressed frequently by the Rebbe Maharash. In one of his articles about Sukoth, he interprets the phrase that the Jewish nation said when we received the Torah, “naaseh venishma. This phrase means, “We will do and we will listen,” however, the order of the words does not seem logical for generally one first hears what must be done and then one does it. The Midrash states that since we said that we will do, before hearing and understanding the word of God, God gave two crowns to every Jewish soul, one crown for each word.  However, the merit by which we received these two crowns is not because of each word and each level of commitment individually, rather because of the order in which we said them, placing our readiness to perform God’s word before hearing and understanding it. Both levels are extremely good but only if they appear in the correct order.


The usual explanation of these two words is that “we will do” is a super-rational commitment, as if to say, “I will do whatever You want me to do.” This level is called “nullification to the Master of the will.” The phrase “we will listen” means that after I carry out that will, I will understand.  In other words, my performance of the God’s commandments is not dependent upon my understanding, first I will do it, and then I will understand. This is a uniquely Jewish commitment, a Jewish, irrational way of commitment, and only a Jew is able to commit himself in this way to God. This is why we were deemed worthy of these two crowns, because we expressed our desire to perform God’s will before knowing exactly what we had to do.


The Rebbe Maharash offers a more profound interpretation. He explains that the word nishma does not merely mean to hear and to understand intellectually, he points that it means commitment to do something, because nishma in Hebrew also means obedience. The Hebrew root shama can mean physical hearing or intellectual understanding. Nonetheless, throughout the Torah, the same root shama also means obedience, commitment. However, if the word nishma means obedience, then there is apparently no difference between that and naaseh” which means “we will do.”  The Maharash, however makes the distinction, stating that “naaseh” means “we will carry out God’s will, come what may!” while nishma means, that we will carry out God’s will with the obedience of a soldier in the army. When an officer broadcasts an order to a soldier, the soldier has to first hear it; he has to receive the order through his radio set. Once the soldier has received the order he must integrate it into his mind and he must take into consideration the field conditions, measuring to what extent, he is able to perform this command faithfully. In other words he says, “I will do it to the best of my ability.” This is the level of “nishma.”


According to this interpretation, “naaseh!” “we will do it, come what may!” is an irrational, chaotic cry, which, without the balance of nishma,” would “break the vessels.” The addition of the word, “nishma” comes to say, “We will do it to the best of our ability,” this is the rectification of the wild energies of “naaseh.” This, as we shall explain in more detail, is the meaning of “chaotic lights in rectified vessels.”

This explanation of the Rebbe Maharash is very profound. The commitment of nishma is committing yourself to doing as much as you can.  As much as I can,” is my understanding of my own limitations. Everyone has a certain extent of self-knowledge, and based upon his own experience he knows to what degree he is capable of succeeding in the task at hand. A person knows that there have been moments in the past when he has been unsuccessful because he tried to do too much. His own experience teaches him not to take on more than he can handle, as we mentioned earlier, “There is none wiser than someone with experience. Taking on more than one can handle is the World of Chaos. If a person tries to do something that is more than he can handle, he has an inner trepidation that he might fail, or even worse, that he might totally collapse from the strain of too much responsibility. This very thought in itself may cause the failure. We therefore have the “nishma” clause, which states “I will do what I can.” This sense of commitment is for the sake of the one giving the order as well as the one who is ordered. For the reason the order has been given is for it to be carried out successfully. Therefore, a person must judge rationally how much he can do in practice and he must do what he can to the extent that he is able. Since one must be completely committed to the success of the campaign one must therefore prevent failure by taking on more than one can handle.


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