Do First, Understand Later

The Jews accepted the Torah with the statement naaseh v'nishma--we will do and we will hear.

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While only Moses ascends to Mount Sinai, the collective Jewish people accepted the Torah. According to midrash, not a single member of the community missed the revelation for reasons of ritual impurity, and not a single person was blind, deaf, or otherwise unable to experience the totality of the revelation. Furthermore, according to some commentators, the words na'aseh v'nishma indicate an acceptance not only of the immediate laws of the Torah, but also of all of the laws to come. According to Abraham Ibn Ezra, "na'aseh [indicates] all of the laws given until this point [and] nishma [indicates] the laws to come in the future" (short commentary, comment to Exodus 24:7).

Though only one generation of Jews actually stood at Sinai, this group comprised the ancestors of all future members of the Jewish community., They accepted the Torah not only for themselves, but also for all generations to come. Each year at Shavuot, when Jews recreate the experience of the revelation, each generation has a new opportunity to declare on its own behalf, "na'aseh v'nishma."

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.