As I’m sitting in the airport terminal waiting for my flight home, I can’t help but notice the incredible amount of technology being used all around me. Just about every person is browsing on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. These devices are our connection to the internet and to a vast “web” of information about anything and everything.
An outside observer, or perhaps even our own grandparents, would assume our generation to be the most intelligent and, accordingly, happiest ever. But guess what? Despite all the technology and innovation, life doesn’t seem to be any easier to make sense of – or to live through. Though our generation is able to explain how and why things happen, people are as desperate for direction and meaning today as ever before. How is it possible that civilization has advanced so much technologically, yet made no progress in understanding the most basic question, “What’s it all about?”
The critical flaw in the advancement of civilization can be traced back to a moment in our parashah when God is about to share with mankind the blueprint of the universe: His holy Torah. He asks the nations of the world whether they would like to receive this knowledge. The nations proceed to ask God what is written in the Torah, and, upon hearing some of its restrictions, astonishingly reply in the negative. Why would they decline the opportunity to finally gain the key to understanding life’s greatest mysteries? Because they couldn’t help themselves. Although their question seemed fair and logical, it placed an insurmountable barrier between finite mankind and infinite God. They had put their human intellect forward, and were now limited by it. There was no room left to explore the great and wondrous things that lay beyond the pale of human understanding.
The Jewish People, in contrast, had an entirely different attitude. They said, “We will do and then we will understand.” But how is that even possible? Don’t you first need to know what you’re agreeing to before you accept? In truth, the Torah actually says that the Jewish People replied, “All that God has said, we will do and then we will understand.” They already knew what was written in the Torah. But if that were true, then what was so great about their response? And why do our Rabbis teach that they were worthy of receiving the Torah because of their response?
The answer is that the Jewish People were the humblest of all people, and therefore they were willing to forgo imposing their intellectual limitations on God. Their faith in God empowered them to let go and open up their minds to the awesome, infinite knowledge that lay beyond. They were willing to first “do” what was required, and then wait until they would be blessed with “we will understand.” Thus, they were the ones who became known as the “Generation of Knowledge.”
All of the incredible inventions in our world, from the time of the Industrial Revolution until today, have not brought a real solution to our woes and pains because they fail to acknowledge that no matter how smart or advanced we become, we still remain mere mortals with an extremely limited viewpoint. God has created everything for a very specific purpose. Everything we experience and endure has tremendous potential for growth. However, not only will man never access this knowledge, but the false assurance of Western “progress” serves only to reinforce his limited viewpoint.
The Torah is called an elixir of life. It contains tools that give meaning to our every interaction. By humbling ourselves and living a life of faith, we can receive the Torah anew today just as yesterday. We, too, can say, “First we will do, and then WE WILL understand!” Amen!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Nefilat Apayim 4