Mishpatim: A Path to Follow

This portion’s many rules/laws [mishpatim] are followed by powerful narrative (chapter 24) which includes the people’s famous utterance — “we will do and we will listen [or hearken/heed/obey]!” — and an episode in which a group of Israelites “beheld God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus/Shemot 24:3, 7, 11).

There is a great deal of commentary on “na’aseh v’nishma,” which is variously translated as “we will do and we will obey” (Stone*) or “we will do and we will hearken/listen,” (Fox*) or “we will do and we will heed” (Alter*). Some of the earliest can be found in Shabbat 88a-b in the Babylonian Talmud*:

R. Eleazar said: When the Israelites gave precedence to ‘we will do’ over “we will hearken,’ a Heavenly Voice went forth and exclaimed to them, Who revealed to My children this secret, which is employed by the Ministering Angels, as it is written, Bless the Lord, ye angels of his. Ye might in strength, that fulfill his word. That hearken unto the voice of his word [Ps. 103:20] first they fulfill and then they hearken?

Some other places to explore paths leading from this verse are: Schwartz’s Tree of Souls,* Reform Judaism magazine’s piece on “Healing the World,” R. Jill Jacobs’ article “Do First, Understand Later” on My Jewish Learning.

For another path, consider a contemporary midrash with many notes on the “lunch with God” episode, Exodus/Shemot 24:9-11, see “One Woman’s Conclusion.

* For complete citations and more details on Torah commentaries and other works — including a link to the Babylonian Talmud in PDF — please see Source Materials.

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Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.

The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.
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