This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, contains a large collection of laws. The Torah teaches us not to lie, the importance of caring for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in our midst, and more. Some of the laws contained in Mishpatim are logical, others are more opaque. At the end of the portion, the children of Israel respond, “na’aseh v’nishmah – we will do and we will hear (or understand.)”
This famous phrase seems like it’s written backwards. Shouldn’t it be – we will understand and then we will do? Torah emphasizes action. The mitzvot bind us together as an ethical community with a shared collection of practices. Doing necessarily comes before understanding because for some things, understanding can only be achieved through lived experience.
There is a misconception that Reform Judaism is “Judaism Lite.” This is not at all true to its philosophy. Reform Judaism stands for the concept of “educated choice.” Reform Judaism teaches that we should try on the mitzvot – do them, learn about them, and decide for ourselves whether they have meaning. After all, how can we know if something would bring lasting value to our lives if we have never tried it? Lighting Shabbat candles and having dinner with your family may bring tremendous warmth and togetherness to your home, giving you a chance to slow down and appreciate time with family, a spouse, or by yourself. In each of those circumstances, the Shabbat meal by candlelight has something beautiful to offer.
Judaism is full of riches – some are mitzvot, or commandments, some are traditions. Our people declared na’aseh v’nishmah – this week I invite you to take these words to heart. Na’aseh – do something Jewish that is not a part of your usual routine, so that nishmah – you may hear and understand Judaism in a new way.
Cantor Sally Neff