A Few Thoughts from Mishpatim

In last year’s Shulchan Shelanu (Our Table) on this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, began by looking at the following passage,

Then to Moses He said, “Come up to ADONAI, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone is to approach ADONAI, but the others may not draw near, nor are the people to go up with him.”

So, Moses came and told the people all the words of ADONAI as well as all the ordinances. All the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do. So, Moses wrote down all the words of ADONAI, then rose up early in the morning, and built an altar below the mountain, along with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He then sent out young men of Bnei-Yisrael, who sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings of oxen to ADONAI. Then Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins and the other half he poured out against the altar. He took the Scroll of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. Again, they said, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey.”

Exodus 24:1-7

Then while making the following observation, he ended with a probing question.

This passage includes one of Judaism’s most pivotal concepts when we read of the people of Israel saying, “Everything that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey (na’aseh v’nishma).” The Hebrew may be read to say, “we will do, and we will hear,” or even, “we will do, and we will understand.” The question is, “What is the relationship between doing and understanding?” Must you understand something before you can do it? What do you say?

Shulhan Shelanu, Mishpatim, Vol. 3, Is. 7. 1st of Adar 5781, February 12, 2021

Continuing with this idea of doing, then understanding, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman commented concerning Bnei-Israel’s response, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do.”

We were wise to accept the Torah even before we understood, to preface “we will do” to “we will understand.” Because we knew well the One who was giving us this Torah.


So, the question under consideration as we enter into Shabbat this week is, “Is it necessary to understand the rationale behind the mitzvot (commands) of God before we do them?” The prophet Isaiah recorded these words from the Ruach,

Who among you fears ADONAI? Who hears the voice of His servant?  Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the Name of ADONAI and lean on his God.

Isaiah 50:10

In a way, Isaiah describes Bnei-Israel’s position as the foot of the mountain. Moses had come down from his meeting with HaShem and spent the next one hundred verses, laying down the basic requirements of the covenant HaShem was making with Bnei-Israel. First, after reading the requirements, “All the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do,” (vs 3). Then Moses wrote everything down on a scroll, and the next day, read the requirements once again, and “Again, they said, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey” (vs 7). There is no way that all the people understood what they were committing themselves to do. Their response was an act of trust in the One who had brought them out of Egypt and began them on their way to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the words were not mentioned, Bnei-Israel stepped out in faith, trusting that what HaShem had begun in Egypt, he would continue – even if they did not understand everything they had agreed to. 

This act, by Bnei-Israel at the foot of the mountain, should encourage each of us to follow these exhortations from the Apostolic Writings,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. For by it the elders received commendation.

Hebrews 11:1-2

Could it be that the commendation the elders received was their statement of faith in accepting the covenant offered by HaShem, for themselves and their descendants to come? 

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Rav Shaul affirms that our lives should not be controlled or dictated by what we see but by our faith and trust in Yeshua, who affirmed, “And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Then the psalmist reminds us,

The fear of ADONAI is the beginning of wisdom. All who follow His precepts have good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Psalm 11:10

Remember the quote from Rabbi Freeman earlier, “we were wise to accept the Torah before we understood.” The psalmist here links wisdom and understanding with following His precepts, or in other words, walking in obedience. 

Finally, in answer to Rabbi Dauermann’s question, “Must we understand something before we can do it?” I would have to say the answer, no we do not. We simply must trust in HaShem and his Word. What do you say?

* All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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