From the Sfas Emes Blog
In Pirkei Avos we read, “יוֹתֵר מִלִּמּוּדָךְ עֲשֵׂה/Do more than you have learned.” (Avos 6:4) Similarly we find earlier, “כָּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת/Anyone whose deeds are more than his knowledge, his knowledge survives.” (Avos 3:9) How is it possible for one to do more than he has learned?
The Sfas Emes explains that Chazal are not speaking of doing more than we know. They are speaking of someone who knows what to do but does not understand the meanings behind his actions, the mitzvos. When Chazal exhort us to do more than we have learned, they are telling us to do even though we do not understand.
We know that our actions have spiritual ramifications. Our mitzvos rectify spiritual realms as well as this world. In fact, the Zohar teaches us that the main thing about the mitzvos is the intentions for the rectification of our own souls and the rectification of the spiritual realms.
However, the Zohar also teaches that since not everyone is able to have all these intentions, David HaMelech prayed that God accept even the mitzvos of those who are unable to have all the proper intentions, “וִיהִי נֹעַם ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ/May the pleasantness of God, our Lord be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us; and the work of our hands establish it.” (Tehillim 90:17) David HaMelech is asking that our deeds alone should work rectification for us in the spiritual realms even if we are unable to have all the proper intentions about these rectifications.
This works, the Sfas Emes teaches, only when we have a strong overriding desire to fulfill God’s will regardless of our understanding of the mitzvos or even our ability to perform them. Desire to accomplish is crucial.
The Sfas Emes takes this idea further. Our desire to achieve God’s will even though it may be beyond our understanding and abilities also causes us to receive opportunities and help to do things that are normally beyond our abilities. Chazal teach us, “A person is led upon the path that he wants to travel.” (Makkos 10b)
 Rabbeinu Yona asks this question in Sha’arei Teshuva 2:10. He answers that Chazal consider a person’s commitment to do God’s will tantamount to doing it. Therefore, it’s possible to “do” more than one knows how to do. In Avos D’Rebbi Nosson, this ma’amar of Chazal is backed up by the pasuk “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will do and we will listen.” (Shmos 24:7) The proof from this pasuk makes sense only in light of Rabbeinu Yona’s explanation, otherwise, how is it possible to do before listening? Just like the pasuk, the ma’amar too, is referring to making a commitment. The Sfas Emes has a different original approach to understanding the ma’amar.
 Zohar 2:93b