“‘All that God has spoken we will we do, and we will listen’” Exodus 24:7

By Lindsay Simmonds, January 24, 2014

Possibly the most famous two words in the Torah, Na’aseh v’nishma (“We will we do, and we will listen”) have always evoked much commentary. But what can it mean to do God’s will before acquiring a thorough understanding of what God demands?

The Gemara in Shabbat (88a) claims that the Children of Israel are likened to melachim (angels) at Mount Sinai, such that they serve God as emissaries, with a will that corresponds only to the will of God. A verse from Psalms is quoted as a proof text, since the order is the same: “God blesses His emissaries… those who do His word and listen to the voice of all His word” (103:20).

Most tellingly, this verse is followed by another: “God blesses all His ministering hosts who do His will” (103:21). The Chasidic commentator, the Sefat Emet, states that oseh devaro, those who do, might also mean “those who create His word”, the Hebrew word oseh meaning both “doing” and “creating”. He suggests the doing of God’s will is the actualisation of God’s presence; our participation in mitzvot creates a world of Torah, bringing it to life.

What do the children of Israel do to warrant such an appellation? Their response to the catalogue of mitzvot given in this week’s parashah is to submit completely to the will of God regardless, making God’s will their own.

In other words, we human beings need sometimes not to be afraid to think of ourselves as angels in order to develop a relationship with God. As Rabbi Zvi Leshem of Efrat taught me, the morning blessing for women, “Who has made me according to Your will” is better translated as “Who has made me (my will) like Your will”. Apologetic? Possibly. But something for everyone to strive towards.

Last updated: 9:57am, January 24 2014