In the introduction to his book, Blink, writer Malcolm Gladwell notes: “We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it...We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”
The Torah certainly agrees with Gladwell. In this week’s portion, Mishpatim, the Israelites accept the yoke of the Torah’s teachings at Mount Sinai—well before reading the fine print of what they are committing themselves to practice. They say to Moses: “Na’aseh v’nishmah—All that God has spoken, we will do and understand.” As countless sages have noted, the doing precedes the understanding. Commenting on this, Rashi notes: “In that instant, the Israelites acted with the genius of the Ministering Angels.” For Rashi, Gladwell’s snap intuition is a kind of angelic gift.
When we think back on most of the biggest decisions of our lives—such as choosing a college, taking (or leaving) a job, getting married (or not), having (or not having) a child, buying a house, moving to a new place, when to retire, etc—we realize that we never really understand full implications of our actions before we make them. No matter how much research and deliberation we do, in the end, we always make a kind of leap of faith into the unknown because we cannot ever truly grasp, in such situations, what we are really getting ourselves into. Our course at Sinai, Na’aseh v’nishmah—to act, and only afterwards, gradually, come to appreciate the consequences of our actions—remains the only way to move forward in our personal, professional, and communal lives. In the end, there is no path that does not demand significant faith. In those fearful times just before we leap, it is good to know that our ancestors have been there before us, and that, with God’s help, we are likely to land with the earth solidly beneath our feet.