Happy 108th birthday, Boy Scouts of America!
Last week, we learned of the Aseret Hadivrot – the Ten Commandments. Hadivrot also has the root deber – speak. God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel by speaking them. Some scholars translateAseret Hadivrot as the Ten Statements. So last week’s lesson was about God’s statements.
This week, in Parshat Mishpatim, we learn about listening to God’s statements. The parasha begins with a list of detailed laws about specific matters, such as when an ox gores someone, treatment of “slaves” (really, indentured servants), murder, accidental killing, stealing, and Jewish holidays.
After Moses read all these laws “in earshot” of the Children of Israel, they responded “Everything that God has said, we will do and we will hear.” In Hebrew, the words “we will do and we will hear” are na’aseh venishema. You’ve seen the root word of venishema before – shema, as in the prayer Shema Yisrael “Hear O’Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
“We will do and we will hear” is a little confusing. It’s out of order. Usually we hear a command first, and then agree to do it.
Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, explains this by translating venishema as “understand”. That helps some, but usually we would still expect to understand first, before agreeing to obey.
The point of this translation is that by doing things – such as obeying God’s rules – we learn to understand them. If we understand them, we make them part of the way we live, and turn these rules into things we do naturally.
Take the Scout Law – 12 great ideas for living a good life. Though sometimes we need to be reminded to be Trustworthy, Loyal and the rest, we usually act this way most of the time. The reason we act this way is that when we were young, our parents taught us these traits day by day. Over time, we learned these lessons so well that they became part of us.
At two years old, when you learned to say “I’m sorry” if you hurt someone, you probably didn’t read it in a book. Your parents told you what to do and you listened. The same goes for saying “please” and “thank you” and giving water to a thirsty pet and opening the door for someone who needs help.
Sometimes, the lesson was taught to you not by anyone saying anything, but by them doing the thing they wanted to teach you.
Learning by doing is what we do in Scouts. You saw a picture of a Scout using an axe in the Scout Handbook and your patrol leader showed you how to do it at your first campout, but when you began chopping wood yourself, you understood how it was done. You made those axe strokes a part of what you do.
By living according to good rules – like the Torah, the Scout Promise and the Scout Law – every day, they become part of us.