At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people accepted the Torah with the words, na’aseh v’nishma – we will do, then we will understand (Exodus 24:7). Their commitment to keeping God’s Torah was not in any way contingent upon their understanding why they should do so. They were ready to do whatever God would command, irrespective of whether or not it made sense to them.
At first glance, this seems to fly in the face of all we know about Judaism.
It is not a religion of blind faith. We define reality by using our mind. Our heart might tell us what “feels good,” but it doesn’t tell us what is the truth. Our emotions often blind us from seeing reality. So how could the Jewish people, at this seminal moment of history, seemingly subjugate themselves to mindless faith? It goes against so much of what Judaism holds dear.
Most of us do not understand how a nuclear bomb works. It makes no sense. You take a tiny particle, invisible even to some of the most powerful microscopes, and you split it in half. And by doing so, you release enough energy to destroy a city.
An apple is made of billions of these particles. Cut one open and surely you will blast our whole solar system out of the Milky Way.
Without an understanding of the fundamentals of particle physics, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
And yet, if you were told they were dropping a nuclear missile five miles from here, you would run for your life. You wouldn’t worry about how it could possibly be. You’d just run.
We know that somehow, the atom bomb is based on sound principles. Bohr, Planck, Einstein and Oppenheimer understood the physical world in a much deeper way than you and me. We are willing to accept that somehow it works, even though we have no concept of how, because some very smart human beings have told us it is so. And they have proven it to the satisfaction of the entire world.
A metaphysical law like kashrut works the same way. If Einstein and Bohr and Planck had told you that pork particles were so dangerous that they would eventually cause cancer in anyone who ingested them, we would all keep very far away, even if we didn’t understand the mechanics behind it.
So what about God? Let’s say God tells you that pork is spiritual poison. Kryptonite. You will see nothing, feel nothing – but it will slowly eat away at your soul. Would you eat the pork? You might want to understand the mechanics of why. But whatever the case, you wouldn’t eat it.
The Jewish people knew that the Torah was coming straight from the Creator of the Universe. When you have such clarity, it doesn’t require a leap of faith to say, “We will do, and then we will understand.” It merely requires sanity. Who would say anything different?
The Jews who stood at Sinai knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was a God; they experienced national revelation and heard God speak to them directly. They reasoned, quite logically, that if God is telling us an atom bomb is going to explode, we don’t need to understand how it works. We’ll run first and ask questions later.
All this is predicated on knowing there is a God who gave the Torah. For us today, we are bidden with the task of examining the question of God’s existence and the Divine origin of the Torah. Realizing the deep significance of the question, we delve into it with great openness and honesty.
And if we are convinced that the evidence – and there is plenty of it for those who wish to look – points to an infinite Creator, then Shavuot is the time for us to declare, na’aseh v’nishma. If God says that Shabbat guarantees a spiritual infusion into every week, then let’s embrace it. Even if we don’t yet understand how it works. And in the meantime, let’s strive to learn and understand whatever we can.