Thursday, February 08, 2018

Rav Kook on "na'aseh v'nishma"

What's so special about "na'aseh v'nishma?"  When Nancy Pelosi said, "You have to pass this bill to see what's in it," her mindless lemming followers did exactly that.  "Na'aseh v'nishma!" -- we'll learn the details after we accept it as law.  Is this really the secret about which Hashem said, "mi gilah raz zeh l'banay," who revealed this great secret to my children?!  Is this the secret which Bnei Yisrael is praised for discovering?!

There is another gemara that uses almost identical language, but in this case the revelation/discovery of the secret led to condemnation instead of praise.  The gemara (B"M 85) writes that Eliyahu haNavi revealed to Rebbi that R' Chiya and his children had a amazing koach ha'tefilah.  Next fast day due to lack of rain Rebbi knew exactly to appoint as shat"z -- R' Chiya.  Sure enough, when R' Chiya said "mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem" it immediately started to rain.  Upstairs in shamayim they realized something is up, and if R' Chiya continues and gets to "mechayei meisim" there are going to be big consequences.  "Man gali razya b'alma?" says the gemara -- same expression that Hashem used with respect to "na'aseh v'nishma."  Who let the cat out of the bag and revealed the secret?  Yet here the gemara says Eliyahu was punished and was forced to interrupt R' Chiya's davening lest he finish and bring mashiach too early.  Why is it that when Bnei Yisrael intuited the angelic secret of "na'aseh v'nishma" (whatever that means) and revealed it in the world, it's a great thing, but when Rebbi revealed the secret he had learned from Eliyahu, it's something that the world cannot tolerate? 

Mindless obedience is demanded by dictators, cults, and Democrat congressmen (I repeat myself) like Nancy Pelosi.  It's not a chiddush and is not what na'aseh v'nishma is all about.  To understand what it is about, let's look at two different skills:

Daughter #3 plays guitar.  Had you handed her a guitar when she was starting out and asked her to play a song, she would have been confounded.  First came learning a few basic chords on a smaller size instrument that allowed for her to learn how to position her hands and fingers.   Then came an upgrade to a better, full size guitar.  Then came more chords and a few basic songs.  Now she can play a small repertoire, but is still learning.  That's how it works with all subjects, all fields of study.

Compare that with a spider web -- Charolette's web.  A spider doesn't go to spider school and start with learning how to make a basic web and then progress to bigger, more complex webs, getting promoted from one spider web class to the next.  A spider is born knowing how to spin webs, period -- it's part of what a spider is.

Rav Kook explains that "na'aseh v'nishma" means that Torah is to Klal Yisrael what spinning a web is to a spider.  We can "do" Torah and do mitzvos without having any prerequisites -- it's built into who we are.  It's not something we absorb from the outside through training, through learning, but rather is part of our essence, much as a malach fulfills Hashem's will because a malach's essence is serving as a shliach.  This is the angelic "secret" which Klal Yisrael intuited. 

My wife was recently reading Herman Wouk's (can you believe b'li ayin ha'ra that he is still alive?) The Language G-d Talks and she pointed out an interesting passage where he mentions his engaging Richard Feynman (to my 5T/Far Rockaway neighbors -- can you believe he grew up on Cornaga?) in a discussion of Talmud.  Feynman was a great physicist, but had no use for religion.  Nonetheless, he immediately took to the Talmudic analysis.  How can someone with no background do that?  Wouk writes (p. 157):
Because we are alike.  Alike in the joy of following and grasping ling strings of tight logic -- alike in the zest for the toughest mental challenges, in the rejection of flawed answers, in the glory when the elusive true answer dawns -- do you have a Talmudic mind?  Sure call it that, because if you say 'Yiddishe kop,' Jewish head, you'll enrage the geneticists and get called racist by fools.  Of course it's cultural, it's an inheritance from grandfathers, great-grandfathers, forefathers, all the way back to Babylon, and they all studied the Talmud, and that's why you're Feynman, I assure you.
In other words, na'aseh v'nishma -- it's built into who we are. 
We can now understand why the case of R' Chiya's tefilah is different.  Just as na'aseh v'nishma defines our essence as a people, each individual tzadik has something unique that defines their individual essence as well.  That is their "raz," the secret of who they are -- it is their identity alone and does not belong to the world as a whole, which may not be ready for it or capable of accepting it.     

1 comment:

  1. I don't see where the hava amina of mindless obedience would come from. I mean, the pasuq promising "kol asher dibeir Hashem, naaseh", full stop, could be taken that way. But the razah is "na'aseh venishma" -- where shemia' includes hearing, listening, understanding and accepting.

    So, the simple peshat of the secret (to my ear) would be: We will do -- perhaps a statement of obedience based on trust alone, and we will listen, understand and accept what we experience when we do.

    (But then, I rarely "get" RAYK.)