Doing and Hearing: Mishpatim 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: To what extent must our faith go unquestioned? Does questioning our faith mean that we are filled with doubt, or does questioning strengthen our faith?

The famous statement near the end of this week’s Torah portion, “na’aseh v’nishmah”, literally means, “we will do and we will hear.” The practical meaning evokes a sense of blind faith, at least on the surface.

Text:Then [Moses] took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that Adonai has spoken we will faithfully do!’” (Exodus 24:7)

Commentary #1: “When the Israelites declared their willingness to perform the mitzvot before hearing them, 600,000 ministering angels came and bestowed on each Israelite two crowns, one for the promise to perform, and one for the promise to hear.” – Shabbat 88a

Commentary #2: “Tradition suggests that the Torah’s peculiar language is instructive; it is no accident that the people first promise to act, and then say they will understand. The Torah’s insight is that in the Jewish world of religion, study, and meaning, the feelings, the faith, and the spirituality we seek often follow behaviors specifically designed to elicit them. Jewish faith and Jewish spirituality do not come out of thin air, insists Jewish tradition. They come out of uniquely Jewish behaviors designed to let them grow and develop.” – Daniel Gordis, God Was Not in the Fire

Commentary #3: “This is a very important dimension for a gay understanding of this text. Translesbigay religious people need to assume that ancient traditions and laws are continually unfolding, and that we need always to be open to new possibilities. We are not limited by the way the law is written at a particular moment, but are aware that things are always evolving and changing. The moment at Sinai provides a blueprint for how we are to deal with future possibilities, and keeps us mindful that while we won’t know in advance what they are, we must remain open and ready to listen.” – Rebecca Alpert, “Exodus,” from The Queer Bible Commentary, edited by Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West and Thomas Bohache

Late-Inning Questions: To the Talmud, the Israelites’ statement proves that they are worthy of royalty, approaching God’s loyalty. To Gordis, the sentence indicates an approach that is uniquely Jewish. And to Alpert, the sentence expresses openness to new ideas, not close-mindedness to everything we believed before.

Do you believe that this statement describes one of the key elements of the Jewish approach to God? Is it better to begin to follow Jewish practice before truly understanding it? Or is it better to wait before we thoroughly appreciate the practice? How will we know when our appreciation is full? And does this latter approach make it less likely that we will follow Jewish practice at all?

On Deck at Emanu-El: We are honored that Jon Adam Ross will be at services tomorrow morning to give the guest d’var Torah. Jon is performance artist who, through the work of the Inheiritance Project, will put on a play about the biblical character of Rebecca at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto. He is spending two weeks in Charleston this month and we look forward to hearing more about his innovative project. Please join us at services tomorrow beginning at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: Congratulations to Ted Levin for winning my baseball card collection at Bingo! Now that I partially filled the winter with sorting through my cards for the last time, it’s just in time for spring training to start in a little more than one week …

Shabbat Shalom!