I remember when I was very young I received a model aeroplane as a birthday present. I saw on the box a picture of a shiny model aeroplane bedecked with glossy stickers, even a tiny sized pilot in the seat – a perfect miniature model that would be the joy of any seven-year old’s collection. Enthused and excited, I tore off the wrapping, and armed with liquid glue I began to build. In my haste, the instructions were thrown away –after all, when you are an artist instruction are not needed! Half an hour later, I had assembled my model ‘plane’. It wasn’t really a plane but rather some wings jutting out at awkward angles out of a ball of glue, with the pilot holding on for dear life, stuck to the fuselage.
The downfall of this project resulted from not looking at the instructions. Had I perused them more closely I am sure the result would have been different.
When the Jewish people are about to receive the Torah, they respond with the words “We will do it and we will listen (understand) it”. The Medrash reveals that when they said these words, G-d was astounded and impressed. He stated:” Who revealed this secret to my children? This is the same way that my angels serve me”. The angels are such perfect servants that they serve G-d’s word directly and only afterwards do they understand His will.
While serving G-d and understanding His Torah is undoubtedly great, surely this acceptance is somehow akin to my enthusiastic attempts at a model aeroplane. How can one do without knowing what to do? Furthermore in our daily prayers preceding the Sh’ma we recite: “Place in our hearts the understanding, to listen, to teach to guard and to perform your Torah with love. In this prayer we ask G-d first for understanding, and the only afterwards to fufil G-d’s will. This is exact opposite order to the words uttered by the Jews at Sinai. Why should this be?
It seems there are two levels of accepting the Torah. The first is in a moment of great inspiration, where the hand of G-d is clearly visible, as when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. At such moments, all that is required is the whole-hearted desire to do what G-d wants, and when only afterwards to study it in greater depth, to understand the beauty of what G-d wants.
However, there are other times when we are not as inspired. At those times, it is important to spark our enthusiasm with learning, and through that to come to the status of fulfilling what G-d wants from us.
The sages realised that not every day are we capable of achieving the levels of the Jews at Sinai. These moments of inspiration do arise, but they are few and far between. They therefore swapped the order around, to learn first, ensuring that our ‘fullfiling’ of the Torah is filled with enthusiasm, renewal and excitement.