Parshat Mishpatim is all about laws; laws that govern our way of life and rules that (hopefully) help us be better Jews. Moses recounts to the people what God has told him, and the people respond “na’aseh” – we will do. Breaking from oral tradition, Moses then decides to write all of God’s laws down and read them to the people of Israel. This time their response changes, they say “na’aseh v’nishma” – we will do AND we will listen. The people of Israel now learn to listen and understand, not just follow or do.
This begs the question, as we are in the midst of our busy semesters, do we take the time to make sure everyone understands what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it? Sometimes, we rush to get students signed up to help plan an activity without taking time to explain the idea that sparked the initiative. This parsha reminds us to pause, to seek and explain the why. Without the why, we’re simply following orders. Giving people the why sustains their ownership of the mitzvah/law.
Sasha Joseph is the student life coordinator for San Francisco Hillel.