Na’aseh v’Nishmah | נעשה ונשמע | We Will Do, and We Will Understand
Tomorrow evening, we will usher in the holiday of Shavuot on which we celebrate God’s gift of Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, following the harrowing exodus from Egypt. Though already a “people,” we, upon receiving the law and committing ourselves to it, became a “nation.”
At first glance it may seem strange that the dawning of our national consciousness preceded sovereignty. Throughout history, only after establishing themselves in their geographic homes have nations then begun to develop the frameworks within which they would function. The Jewish people, in contrast, received and embraced Torah amidst our wanderings in the wilderness of Sinai, still some distance and several decades from our arrival in the Promised Land.
Another striking element of this part of our story relates to the nature of Sinai itself. The mountain that Moses ascends to receive the law is in the middle of a vast desert—dry and desolate. Those who have traveled in such parts of the world know them as places of quiet and seeming solitude, often with little beyond the landscape as far as the eye can see. Almost nothing to distract from contemplation and reflection—and the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the meaning of nationhood—of “chosenness.”
The Torah tells us that the people’s response to being offered the laws of God was Na’aseh v’nishmah | נעשה ונשמע. The first half, Na’aseh, translates as “we will do,” a commitment to obey, to follow the law. As to the second half, v’nishmah, there are two primary interpretations: “and we will hear” and “and we will understand.” Rabbinic scholars tell us that the latter means that although we have committed ourselves to Torah, to God’s laws, we will remain engaged in perpetual pursuit of greater understanding, reflective of our place in the ever-evolving world around us.
Everything that has followed in the millennia-long saga of the Jewish people finds its roots in that moment when Torah was given, and we responded: Na’aseh v’nishmah. Today in our work as stewards of this moment in Jewish history and interpreters of the landscape in which our critically important work unfolds, we remain steadfast in that commitment to both “do” and “understand”—a promise we made at Sinai that this year, on Shavuot 5782, we renew once more.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America