A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
I am often asked "What do you think is the essence of Judaism?" Usually my response is based squarely on a quote from this week's Torah portion. In Exodus 24:5-8 we readers are given front-row seats at the ritual that Moses performed to confirm the Israelites in the covenant that God had proposed to them on the mountain. The ritual involved a lot of barbecue and sprinkling of bull's blood and you can read about that for yourself. But one verse from the description stands out, almost yelling for us to notice it. "Then [Moses] took the covenant scroll and read it into the ears of the people. They said, 'All that the Lord has said we will do and we will hear.' "
This is really counterintuitive. Probably, we, rational beings all, would say in response, "We will hear and we will do." We'd like to know what we are getting into before we agree to do it. What will our responsibilities be? What's the down side? What will we get in return. We want to say to Moses, give us a few days to consult our lawyer, and we'll get back to you.
But this - we will do and then we will hear - is something different. This is responding to the divine from a different place in our spirit, from the place of awe, wonder and amazement. From a place of non-safety and not-knowing. It's a statement of faith. We answer, "We'll do it, trusting that only later, maybe as we do it, will we hear and understand. It's a response of immediacy, made with no intermediation between us and God. This seems to me to be the essence of Jewish practice.
And since we are able to see divine form in those who come to us for help, it's also true for our response to other humans. Responding to them is like responding to God on the slopes of Sinai. "We will do, then hear," means that our choice to go to that person's aid will be undelayed. We won't need to sit in a committee meeting and come to some rational decision about whether to be involved. We'd hope that our execution after we make that choice will be rationally considered, as we summon our analysis, abilities, compassion, and courage to inform our action. But making the choice will not be in question.
Now how does this apply to Shabbes? Easy. Easier than easy! The choice to cease from work, to allow your soul to be refreshed for the next 25 hours, to simply be rather than do, is before you. Don't overthink it!