Toward the end of Parshat Mishpatim," Moshe presents to them "all of the words of Hashem and all of the judgments (mishpatim)," which they commit to perform, declaring once again, "Naaseh."
Then, a few pesukim later, Moshe reads them the "Book of the Covenant" and their response is different: "Naaseh venishma-We shall perform and we shall hear." How does the reaction of the Bnai Yisrael in Parshat Yitro differ from their reaction in Parshat Mishpatim? What distinguishes naaseh from naaseh venishma?
Sinai, where the Bnai Yisrael proclaimed "Naaseh venishma," is not just the place where the Torah was given, the Rav, zt"l, explains; it was the moment of Divine Revelation. This revelation culminated not with the receiving of the Ten Commandments, he argues, but with the acceptance of their details, of the mishpatim, the Jewish civil code, which we read this week.
In the presentation of the covenant in Yitro, Hashem promises the children of Israel that they will be not only His "am segulah," His cherished nation but also a "mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh," a kingdom of priests and a holy people. With their initial willingness, in Parshat Yitro, to accept the Torah - naaseh - the Bnai Yisrael became G-d's am segulah. With Moshe's presentation of the mishpatim in this week's parsha, and with the Jewish people's commitment to observe them, to listen and give their ear to His words - naaseh venishma - they became a mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh.
This promotion, the Rav, zt"l explains, came with the culmination of the brit. The Rambam teaches that every Jew has the potential to be a prophet and, consequently, has the obligation to pursue that which makes one worthy of being a prophet. As a holy nation of prophets, we are expected to attempt to come close to G-d, to reach toward Him, to comprehend Him on whatever level we are capable.
What is the significance of naaseh venishma? The Midrash quotes the following statement of Rav Simla'i: "It is written, 'Kol Hashem bakoach - the voice of the L-rd is with power'- that is, according to the power of each individual, according to the individual power of the young, the old, and the very small."
Each Jew has a unique level of intensity to his Divine experience. Each individual comprehends Hashem a different way. The nature of the voice of G-d is relative according to the power of each individual.
Thus the dual nature of the Sinai revelation broadens the meaning of naaseh venishma as opposed to simply naaseh. First, a uniform set of principles for everyone (naaseh), expressed in the generalities of the Ten Commandments and the specifics of the mishpatim.
Then, a second layer of the revelation was added, an awareness of and a connection to the Divine (nishma), with every Jew accessing his own personal window to Hashem, be it through talmud Torah (this avenue, explains the Rav, is why the yeshivot traditionally study the tractates of Seder Nezikin, which deal with the mishpatim), through tefillah, through communal activities involving charities or Eretz Yisrael.
Our challenge is to reconnect with that Sinai experience, to partake of the brit, to become - each of us on his or her own fashion - prophets, as we attempt to come close to the mountain. The more windows we access the more success we will have. When we appreciate the full extent of the commitment of naaseh venishma - we shall perform and we shall hear-we not only carry out our mandate as a holy nation of priests. We continue to experience that unique revelation that has guided us throughout the generations.
Rabbi Chaim Marder
Rabbi Marder is the Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, White Plains, NY.