This week’s parashah, Mishpatim, details many of the laws put forth to the Jewish people. This is followed by the famous declaration by the people, “Naaseh v’nishma,” they will “do and hear” all of these laws (24:7). What’s less well-known is the fact that they had already accepted these laws twice before, including in this very parashah (19:8, 24:3). The differences between the first two declarations and this third famous one is (1) the people proclaimed in unison the first two times but not the third, and (2) the first two declarations included only following the laws and the third added hearing them. What is the reason for these differences?
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks offers a beautiful explanation. The first two declarations involved strict adherence to a unified code of conduct and behavior with no room for individuality or divergence, hence why the Jews’ acceptance was in unison. While everyone yet again affirmed that they would adhere to the laws the third time, the absence of that unity reflects that one’s understanding (hearing) of those edicts is very personal and varied, as people connect, understand, and appreciate them at their own level. Judaism leaves room for individuality, and that is what makes us unique as people and as a nation. While our actions unite us, embracing our uniqueness makes us stronger.