In preparation for Shavuos – we share a letter in which the Rebbe emphasizes that the Jewish way of life is “na’asse v’nishma”. We do and then we learn. Even in the realm of science, discipline and methods need to be first accepted. Questioning the truth is fine – yet not understanding truth does not make it not true. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
11th of Sivan, 5738
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter in which you ask various questions relating to the Torah way of life – a timely subject, since we have just celebrated the Festival of Shavuos, the anniversary of the Divine Revelation at Sinai when He gave us the Torah.
While it may be in order to question certain truths, it should be remembered that not understanding a truth does not make it an untruth.
It is surely unnecessary to explain to you that every branch of science, including those mentioned in your letter, has its discipline and methods. When one begins to study a given science, one cannot demand logical proof of every detail – even though the proofs are there; for in that case one will never be able to make progress. It is therefore necessary to accept axioms and postulates, which, in due course, can be examined and substantiated; and more easily, since one will then be better equipped and qualified.
How much more so is this true in regard to the Torah, which has been accepted by each and every one of our people on the basic and axiomatic principle of na’aseh v’nishma – “we will do (before) and we will understand.” The doing must come first, the understanding will follow; indeed, it is through the doing that one gains the insight for a deeper understanding. This is a prerequisite in the advancement of Torah step by step.
Since you mention that you have studied various cultures and peoples, one would assume that you surely studied first your own Jewish people and Jewish culture, which is some 4,000 years old and the mother of many other cultures, and which is still alive, vigorous and thriving. If a Jew has not made a proper study of his own culture, how can he presume to make a judgment about it?
Needless to say, preachment is not the purpose of this letter. I do hope, however, that henceforth, at least, you will endeavor to become more intimately acquainted with your Jewish heritage, bearing in mind that basic and axiomatic approach of “na’aseh v’nishma”, as mentioned above.
If anyone has any doubts as to whether this is the right approach, suffice it to study through the past 2,000 years of our Jewish history in the Diaspora, under all kinds of and mostly extremely adverse circumstances and persecutions. It was precisely this approach that enabled Jews, individually and collectively, to survive in a most hostile world. On the other hand, those who sought an escape through deviation and compromise inevitably had to choose between total assimilation or total commitment to the Torah way. A Jew has the freedom to choose between one or the other, but no Jew and his progeny can long survive as Jews outside the true Jewish element of a Jew, which is his Jewishness – the Torah and mitzvos – as an everyday experience.