|Written by Michael Linetsky|
Rabbi Huna in the name of Rabbi Aha said: The Scripture spoke of Israel which stood before Mt. Sinai and put “doing” before “hearing” and said: All that God spoke we will do and we will hear”.(Exodus 24:7). (Wayikra Rabba) The Israelites are so committed to God that they agree to obey Him even before knowing the reasons for His commandments. Of course, they do not abandon the necessity in ultimately understanding them!
Everyone is familiar with this reading of the Scripture. However, in the early exegetical Tradition and in the Middle Ages it seems to be unrepresented. The various Aramaic Targumim translate the phrase as: ונקבל נעבד (= we shall do and we shall accept(=heed)). In the Arabic tradition, Rabbi Saadiah Gaon: (ונצנעה נקבלה) followed by Ibn Janah (in לצאלא כתאב) have a similar reading. (cf. Exodus 23:21). “Accept” in both Aramaic and Arabic has the sense of “heeding” and “hearkening”.
According to this reading, “do” and “accept” represent two different levels of commitment. The first is a mere commitment to God’s commandments. One agrees to obey God’s laws either to avoid punishment or to obtain reward. The latter is an actual commitment to God. One accepts God’s justice and expresses his trust in God.
Prior to the giving of the Torah the Jewish People were in the condition of “do” in which they merely agreed to worship God and follow His commandments. After the giving of the Torah, however the Jewish People ascended to the latter condition in which they accepted not just God’s commandments but God Himself.
The theme of “do” and “accept” runs through the pages of the Biblical Books. The Jewish People vacillate in their commitment to God. When they suffer losses to the Philistines, Samuel urges them to accept the highest level of commitment, the level of “accept”. He urges the Jewish People to return to God with their hearts (“accept”) and worship God alone (“do”) (Sam. I 7:3-4). But the Jewish people are only prepared for the first level of commitment. Accordingly, when their reaction to Samuel’s urging is actually narrated only their worship of God alone is mentioned. !
In Rabbinic literature we find this view as well.
Commitment to the Torah and the performance of its commandments, the level of “do”, is bound to lead to commitment to God Himself. The Torah seems to give us this very same message. In parashath behar, God promises to make the Jewish people and the Land of Israel prosperous for obeying His commandments, and after that a personal relationship between Him and the Jewish people will be established. We will be a People for God and God will be our God.
The Rabbis have taught that Jacob is engraved in the Heavenly throne. The people of Israel are fixed in God’s conscience and have an indefinite personal relationship with him. On a certain level He is always our God and we are always His people.
Rabbi Hiyya’s teaching gives us the impression that God will only punish on one count -- for abandoning His commandments but not for abandoning Him. But Jeremiah exhorts The Jewish people will be punished on two counts. Abandoning God and Worshipping other gods. The first is the aspect of “accept”. The latter is the aspect of “do” .