Parshaa - Eikev 5762
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Fear of Heaven - No Small Matter
And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to
fear Hashem... (10:12)
The Talmud (Berachos 33b), in reaction to the above pasuk,
exclaims: Is fear of Heaven such a small matter?! [The implication
of Moshe's wording, "what does Hashem ask of you... only to fear
Hashem..." is that this is something simple.] The Sages answer: Yes,
with regard to Moshe, it is a small matter. The question, which is
asked by almost all the commentators, is blatantly obvious: Even if
fear of Heaven (Yir'as Shamayim) is a "simple matter" to Moshe, it is
not at all simple to the Jews, whom he addresses. The question thus
remains: Why does Moshe imply that to the Jews fear of Heaven is
some easy task?
Perhaps we can offer the following answer. The Gemara in many
locations (see, for example, Kiddushin 57a) cites a sage named
Nachman Ha'Amsuni (others say his name was Shimon Ha'Amsuni)
who took upon himself the task of explaining every "es" in the Torah.
The word "es" in Hebrew is not normally translated; it is a connecting
word which is often superfluous, and even when necessary, has no
apparent meaning. Nachman Ha'Amsuni, basing himself on the
premise that not one letter of the Written Torah (Torah She-bi'ksav)
is superfluous, would as a matter of course explain every "es" in the
Torah as coming to include something else besides that which the
Torah explicitly discusses. For instance, with regard to tevilah (ritual
immersion), the Torah writes (Vayikra/Leviticus 14:9), "And [the man]
shall wash his flesh ("es be-saro") with water." The word "es" in this
verse, say Chazal (Sotah 15a), comes to include his hair - that even
one's hair must be immersed in the mikvah in order for the
immersion to be effective.
Everything went smoothly until he reached a verse in this week's
sidrah (10:20 - actually, there is a similar verse in last week's sidrah
as well [6:13]), "es Hashem your G-d you shall fear!" What, he asked,
could the word "es" in this pasuk possibly come to include besides
Hashem? What else are we to fear to the extent that its fear could in
any way be comparable to the fear of Hashem? [Indeed, as a result
of this, he rescinded his opinion that the word "es" was inclusionary.
When asked by his students what would come of all the others es's
he had invested so much time in elucidating, he replied, "Just as I
would have received reward for my efforts [in understanding each
instance], so too [now] I will be rewarded for my restraint [in ceasing
Rabbi Akiva, however, disagrees. The word "es" is always inclusionary.
In this case, he says, it comes to include Torah scholars (Talmidei
Chachamim), who must be feared and revered. [See this year's Olas
Shabbos Be-Shabbato, parshas Mattos (#41), for a lengthy
discussion of the mitzvah to fear Torah scholars, particularly one's
own teachers. This derasha certainly lends weight to the necessity of
fear in the context of the rebbe-student relationship.]
Moshe Rabbeinu thus knew that, to the extent that he demanded the
Jews fear Hashem, he was in a sense including himself as well, being
the Teacher of Israel and Torah scholar par-excellence. Thus,
perhaps, he words his demands in the diminutive: And now, Israel,
what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to fear Hashem... -
paraphrasing Chazal: With regard to Moshe, it is a small matter -
namely, that since the mitzvah to fear Hashem was in fact written
with regard to fearing Moshe as well, he makes light of it, not wanting
to seem as if what he was asking for was any great deal.
In this context, it perhaps behooves us to mention that the "G-dly
fear" mentioned by Rabbi Akiva is in no way saying that man be
equated with Hashem. What he is saying is that we can include fear
of a Torah scholar in the mitzva to fear Hashem because our fear of
the Torah scholar derives itself and emanates from our fear of
Hashem. We fear a great Sage not because of the man, but because
of Hashem's Torah which is within him. Contrary to some other
religious leaders, Jewish Sages do not have the power to arbitrarily
"change the law" based on the ever-changing moral code of man.
They do not on their own decide what is right and what is wrong; that
is the domain of Hashem. They are merely the "spectacles" through
which the light of the Torah is refracted and clarified to each
generation. There is, however, no room within the halachic framework
for personal bias.
Oznayim La-Torah points out that the above verse ("And now
Israel...") comes right after Moshe's description of the sin of the
Golden Calf, and how he interceded on their behalf and Hashem
forgave them. Rashi explains that what Moshe means is, "Even
though you have done all this, Hashem still loves you. All He asks is
that you fear Him..." The Torah is teaching us, says the Oznayim La-
Torah, the correct attitude with which to approach teshuva
(repentance): First and foremost - put your past behind you! Our
Sages say (Bereishis Rabbah 21:6) that the word "ve-ata, and now,"
implies teshuva. What they mean is that in order to do teshuva, the
first step one must take is to pull himself out of his past into the
present. As long as he harps on his past faults and failures, he will
never be able to attain the "fresh start" attitude so critical to change
and transformation. It is only when we put the past aside, and
address the present (and the future) with enthusiasm and positive-
energy, that we can possibly hope to accomplish today what we failed
so miserably to achieve yesterday.
It is in this context, he says, that yir'as Shamayim is a "small matter."
We must approach it with the simplicity of the moment, and not with
the complexity of a lifetime, as we are so prone to do. He is not
suggesting we simply "sweep the dirt under the carpet;" at some later
stage it is imperative that we go back and address past faults, both
to ask for forgiveness, and to learn from our mistakes. To do so
immediately, however, can often impede the energy and enthusiasm
which are so critical to change. Thus, he says, for now - just live for
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication is sponsored by Mr.
Hershey Weinberg, in memory of his father, R' Meshulam
Zalmen ben R' Yisrael Avraham z"l. ******
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.