In ancient times, many of the more enlightened Romans were
fascinated by the purity, spirituality and truth of Judaism - but very few
of them actually converted. The burden of the Torah - submission to
divine authority, circumcision, Sabbath and festival observance, dietary
laws, ritual purity - was simply too heavy to bear. In our own times as
well, many secular Jews feel drawn to traditional observance, but only a
limited number of them can bring themselves to make the commitment.
Without question, keeping the Torah is no easy matter.
And yet, in this week’s Torah portion, we find an amazing
statement. In summing up the demands of the Torah, Moses declares,
“And now, O Israel, what does G-d your Lord ask of you but to fear G-d
your Lord, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve G-d
your Lord with all your heart and all your soul?” So what is Hashem
asking of us already? Not much, Moses tells the Jewish people. Only to
fear Him. Only to walk in all his ways and love Him. Only to serve Him
with all our hearts and souls. That’s all.
That’s all? Is this such an easy thing?
The commentators explain that the Hebrew word yirah, fear, is
closely related to the word re’iyah, seeing. The key to fear is clear
vision. If we see the Creator in the world around us, if we recognize His
Presence, we will inevitably be seized by an overwhelming awe of His
greatness and goodness. All Moses asked was that we open our eyes
and look. The rest would take care of itself.
But how do develop this clear vision? How do we penetrate the veil
of concealment that separates us from our Creator? This in itself is
surely no easy matter.
Our Sages find an allusion in this verse to the daily requirement of
making one hundred blessings. Nothing may be taken for granted. On
special occasions, we are inspired to make the blessing of
Shehechianu, thanking Hashem for giving us the life and the
sustenance to enjoy this wonderful experience. We can relate to the
wonder of these rare occasions. If a sunrise occurred only once every
twenty years, we would rise before dawn to watch the spectacle with
bated breath, and we would be humbled by the awesome Presence of
the Creator. But a sunrise occurs every day, and we have learned to
take it in stride.
The same is true of the countless miracles of daily living. If they
were not so familiar, we would gasp at them in wonder. We would be
exhilarated as we wrap ourselves in warm clothing. We would be
intoxicated by the smell and taste of a fresh cup of coffee. We would be
astounded at the ability of the body to excrete its waste products and
cleanse itself. Yet we take all these things for granted. But if we make
the hundred blessings, if we take the time to acknowledge the divine
benevolence inherent in all the minute details of existence, we would
maintain a perpetual sense of awe and wonder. This is what Hashem
wants of us, that we open our eyes and truly see the wonders of His
creation, so that this clarity of vision will translate into a sense of the
awesomeness of Heaven.
However, as a great sage once commented, heaven is closer to
earth than the heart is to the mind. A purely intellectual awareness of
Hashem, expressed by lip service in the form of a hundred daily
blessings, is simply not enough to inspire true fear of Heaven. The
knowledge cannot be detached from the person. We must “lift up our
eyes and see who created all these,” in the words of the prophet Isaiah.
We must transcend our materialistic view of the wonders of the world
and see them as an expression of an infinite spirituality of which we our
souls are an integral part. We must involve our hearts and souls in this
awareness of the omnipresence of the Creator, and thereby transform
A famous Greek philosopher’s disciples discovered him eating flesh
ripped from a live animal, and their disgust registered on his face.
“How can I philosopher do such a thing?” they asked.
“Right now I am not a philosopher,” he replied. “I’m just a hungry
man. When we meet later, I shall be a philosopher once again.”
We all have the ability to transform our own lives, as long as we
integrate our awareness of the Creator into our identities. When our
blessing and expressions of gratitude emanate from such an
awareness, we will undoubtedly find that all these difficult things
Hashem asks of us are, indeed, an easy matter.