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We Do and Then We Understand

01/31/2019 08:22:23 AM


Rabbi Sam Shabman

When we put Rafael to bed every night, apart from the joys and slight frustrations, there’s one thing that Natan and I hold in suspense, wager each other on, wonder with anxiety. What hour tonight will he sleep to? 

One night, in particular, I was sure it was the night. The entire day before we adhered to the “schedule” rigidly. He ate and napped precisely when he should. He had a huge feeding right before bed, a nice calm and soothing bath, even a baby massage with fragrant scents, we sang the shema and hashkivenu with him for the first time in a while...THIS was the night!

And then midnight hit and the howling commenced. And then again at 1:30, 2:15, 3:30, 5:00, and then he just simply refused to fall back asleep. And we felt defeated. 

Although my tale is a minor example, what do you do when you feel that you are doing everything right, but nothing seems to be working out according to plan?

As always, when faced with a daunting question, I look to our tradition for answers, for strength and for inspiration. 

I looked to the Talmud and could not find a chapter on sleep-training or sleep deprivation, so then I turned to our weekly Torah Portion. 

In this week’s portion, dozens of laws are given to the Israelites. Some of the laws are logical, and, some decidedly less so. Regardless of even knowing what the laws are, upon receiving this deluge of laws from the divine, the Israelites emphatically respond: Na’aseh V’neshmah! We will do and then we will understand! 

I was always confused by this verse, how can we “do” before “understanding”? Isn’t asking questions at the core of Jewish teaching and thought? Shouldn’t we always understand first, and only then do we do? 

Perhaps the famous expression Na’aseh v’neshmah teaches us that no matter what undertaking we find ourselves confronted with, we just need to charge through, listen to our gut and simply do the best we can. We often cannot appreciate experiences until we go through them ourselves and find ourselves on the other side. Na’aseh v’neshmah. We do and then we understand.

Na’aseh v’neshmah can apply to all aspects of life - a baby, a partnership, investing in ourselves and others. We often need this reminder...I often need this reminder. Na’aseh v’neshmah. 

We are all on life’s path, a path that often twists and turns in unpredictable ways. Nonetheless, we forge ahead by listening to our gut, learning from those we trust, and relying on our tradition for wisdom. 

Tue, February 18 2020 23 Sh'vat 5780