The Talmud describes the events at Mt. Sinai. “When the Jews said they would perform the mitzvos even before they heard what the mitzvos were, also known as נעשה ונשמע, six hundred thousand ministering angels came down and tied two crowns on the head of every Jew, one crown for נעשה and one crown for נשמע. When they sinned with the golden calf, 1.2 million destructive angels came and removed their crowns…Reish Lakish said, In the future Hashem will return those crowns to us. As Isaiah prophesied “The redeemed of God will return to Zion singing, with everlasting joy on their heads” (Shabbos 88a).
From this last verse in the Talmud, Rebbe Nachman learned (Torah 22) that the idea of נעשה ונשמע is what joy is all about. The Rebbe understood that נעשה ונשמע wasn’t just a moment in time when the Jews in the desert showed tremendous loyalty, but rather it’s something that we experience constantly. Every person on his own level has the things he understands and the things he doesn’t. As he continues his service of God and ascends from level to level, things that were once hidden from him, נשמע, become known to him and doable, נעשה. But now there are new things that are hidden from him, נשמע.
Very beautifully, the Rebbe likens נעשה to performing mitzvos, whereas נשמע is likened to prayer. It’s clear why נעשה would be likened to performing mitzvos, but why is נשמע likened to prayer? Because prayer is the way we attach ourselves to what we don’t have. Prayer is hope. Hope elevates us into the ‘real world’, although we can’t see it. On an even deeper level, prayer is heartfelt and the heart is connected to the infinite (see Torah 49).
So נעשה ונשמע is about elevating ourselves to higher spiritual levels where we have new insight and new mysteries. But what’s the connection to joy?
Here’s where we might be making a mistake:
Many of us think that we’ll attain our happiness when we reach our goals. We work hard our whole lives waiting to retire and sit on some hammock with a Pina Colada, as if that is the happiness we were always seeking. But happiness isn’t about reaching the destination. True joy is found in the journey itself. The process of growth, with its euphoric victories and emphatic falls give us the greatest satisfaction. Reaching the end-goal might leave us with uncomfortable feelings of emptiness and regret, but working hard towards our goals is where we find true pleasure. There’s something about the נשמע that gives us a glimpse of our smallness when compared to the infinity of God. That feeling makes us turn inwards and pray from the depths of our infinite hearts to reach higher levels of oneness with God and the world. That prayer is the journey with the greatest joy!