Israel eagerly accepts the "yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven" in this week's Torah portion, with the unusual declaration, naaseh venishma, "We will do and we will hear."1 Why they promised to do first and hear (or "comprehend") later has supplied preachers with sermonic material for countless years.

Many Jews are in a quandary regarding observance of mitzvot. In an age of questioning and understanding, the relevance and meaning of many Jewish practices are obscure. "Why?" is the constant challenge; "What will this observance do for me?" is the implicit demand.

There may be certain human experiences that can be thoroughly expressed, their essentials distilled and transmitted verbally. Textbook knowledge may be perfectly adequate. In other fields, while interpretations may be enriching, they must accompany, preferably follow, the actual experience. Hearing a discussion or critical analysis of a symphony, thorough and expert though it may be, would hardly qualify one to understand it. After hearing the work, such interpretation might make it even more meaningful. But music has no meaning unless it is played.

The first and indispensable step toward comprehending any mitzvah's value is actually performing the mitzvahIn this sense we may understand Israel's proclamation, "We will do and we will hear." Appreciation of Judaism, of Torah and mitzvot, does not come from even the most scholarly study of the texts, or from philosophizing on Jewish ideals. The first and indispensable step toward comprehending any mitzvah's value is actually performing the mitzvah. Judaism has no meaning unless it is "played." And then only does the question, "Why?" lead to understanding.

Analysis of the symbolism of rituals, the historical background of practices, the development of customs, the general philosophy of mitzvot or of a particular Jewish law — the results of such studies are enriching and invaluable. They give warmth and pertinence to one's observance of the mitzvah — but they are utterly unintelligible without the observance.

Our people are fond of asking searching questions about Judaism. The corollary of privilege is responsibility. The privilege of questioning is unchallenged, but the corollary, earnestly seeking an answer, is part of the privilege. Our ancestors grasped, perhaps intuitively, that Judaism, and all the word implies, cannot be understood in the abstract. Deed alone leads to understanding.