Saturday, 23 May 2020

Naaseh v'Nishma 2 - The D'var Torah

 originally published 1/14/14

The age-old question or issue grappled with by the Midrash is:
"Why did the Israelites precede Nishma with Naaseh"? IOW how could any Naaseh take place without a preceding Nishma to know WHAT to do first? Seems obvious!

There are several beautiful nuggets in Rabbinical Literature on this. This D'var Torah as I recall was originally based upon a Malbim. But in subsequent years, I could not locate it there. So, suffice it to say I didn't make it up but I've forgotten the precise source. Anyone who CAN identify the source is most welcome to fill the gap.

What's the p'shat of a NISHMA that follows a Naaseh? It seems obvious that in order to facilitate any Naaseh, SOME "how- to" handbook is a given - whether oral, mimetic, or even on video, Naaseh presumes a pre-existing prescription. As such, Halachah l'maaseh is a predicate for Naaseh, and therefore Kal vochomer must precede any Nishma.
So the sequence is
Performance [Naaseh]
So what is the definition of that term Nishma?

Nishma simply may be defined as Torah Lishmah. In fact, it is Torah WITHOUT any pragmatic ramification!
So when we learn Shulchan Aruch in order to Observe Shabbat, that is NOT a function of Naaseh, it is a preparation, a "hechsher mitzvah" for Naaseh.
Nishma goes beyond Observance. It is deeper. It is unique to Israel to go beyond the Divine Command.
As such, there are many implications to this. Most reserved for an upcoming post
The simplest and most straightforward Implication is that Men AND women have an equal obligation in [most of] Naaseh. Thus any "Torah" that teaches practical Halachah is equally required for both genders
However, Nishma is purely a Masculine Obligation of "Torah Lishma"

To briefly expand the question of whether this theoretical Torah lishma is merely Optional to or Off-limits to women is the subject of debate.
At any rate, this is the essence of the d'var Torah - that Torah studied BEYOND that which is a prerequisite for Performance THAT is Nishma.
BEH in upcoming posts I will
•.Expound on some of the other ramifications
• Offer some alternative understandings of "NISHMA"



  1. RBH:

    But until R' Chaim Volozhiner, Torah lishmah did not mean "Torah WITHOUT any pragmatic ramification". The tannaim argue whether it's for the sake of knowing what to do, or for the sake of teaching. But in any case, until the Lithuanian Yeshiva Movement, Torah was not to be learned simply to gain knowledge in the abstract by men either.

    To offer my own alternative understanding of "Nishma": I would go with "internalize", as in "Shema Yisrael". Saying "na'aseh venishma" was an acknowledgement that we don't really understand what the Torah is talking about until we actually try the mitzvah, and we aren't molded by it until then either. And so there is a learning that comes from performance that goes beyond that from study.

  2. In my shiur Kabbalat HaTorah, Part 2, on Koshertube at
    I connect the idea of Na'aseh v'Nishma with the gemara in Shabbat about the nation being force to accept through a mountain being place over them and the famous midrash that God asked the other nations first about whether they wanted the Torah. My conclusion was that a correct full acceptance of Torah needed an understanding that could only come after performance -- so Na'aseh v'Nishma was all the nation could say until they could give such a full acceptance after performance which came with Purim. Nishma was indeed that process of existential understanding -- albeit I believe it was also cognitive and cerebral as well.

    Rabbi Ben Hecht