At Sinai, in response to the offer to receive the Torah, the Jews declared, “We will do and we will listen”. This commitment was considered so great that a voice was heard from heaven proclaiming, “Who taught my child [Israel] the secret which the ministering angels use?” The declaration, however, seems illogical, for it places action prior to listening. How does one act before hearing the instructions? It would make more sense to declare “we will listen and we will do.”
To understand the true meaning of the declaration let us compare a person to a container consisting of three levels: intellect being the top third, emotion, the middle third, and the body, the bottom third. When a person listens, his ‘container’ is filled with the spoken message according to his listening skills.
If he manages to understand what is said, the top third of his container is filled. If he further empathizes with the other or is moved by their words, the middle third of his container is filled. And if the listener’s body is affected, where he acts in response to the message, the bottom third of the container is filled as well. Though we normally view empathic listening as the strongest form of listening, in this analogy the container is still only two-thirds full and still lacking true receptivity. Only when his body is moved by the message is the container completely full.
When the Jews declared “we will do” before“we will listen” they were showing their readiness to act in response to what they would hear G-d speak. In a sense, they opened their ‘containers’ fully, so that the divine messages of Torah should not only be heard by their minds, or even their hearts, but by their physical bodies; it should pervade their entire beings. This is the nature of true listening and it only exists within the person that has a pre-established committed to act on what he hears; living with declaration, “we will do and we will listen”.
When I taught this idea to a student, he offered me a personal anecdote which distinguishes the listening of ‘We will do and we will listen”, from ordinary listening. Once, stress ridden by serious financial trouble, he vented his frustrations to a friend. The friend listened attentively and compassionately, genuinely distressed by his predicament. Soon after, the student described his troubles to his Rabbi who also listened attentively and empathically - yet differently. The Rabbi asked him to wait in his office for a few minutes while he uncannily disappeared. Upon returning, he held $300 dollars in his hand which he gave my student as a gift. The student concluded,“My friend listened with his heart; my Rabbi listened with his body!”