Subscribe to a Weekly Series

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

    Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa says: Anyone whose fear of his sin precedes his knowledge will have his knowledge endure. And anyone whose knowledge precedes fear of his sin will not have his knowledge endure. He would say: Anyone whose deeds are greater than his knowledge has his knowledge endure. And anyone whose knowledge is greater than his deeds does not have his knowledge endure.

Why does it say ?fear of his sin,? when he isn?t sinning? It would have been more precise to say ?his fear of sin precedes??! The reason is that every person is predisposed to sin, as is written ?A person ? there is no righteous one on earth that will do good and not sin? (Koheleth 7:20). (This is a result of the reality of his material/physical dimension.) So the Tanna taught ?fear of his sin,? to which he is predisposed, ?precedes??. He is referring to one who, because he knows that a person cannot be free of sin, is worried that he should not sin, and this fear precedes his knowledge. (See the Maharal?s comments on Ch. 2, Mishna 5) There are those that raise a problem of contradictory implications in the two parts of our Mishha. The first statement says that only if fear of sin precedes his knowledge will the knowledge endure. But if the fear of his sin and his knowledge are concurrent, the knowledge has no endurance. But the second statement says that if his knowledge precedes fear of his sin, his knowledge will not endure, but if they are concurrent, his knowledge will properly endure! A further difficulty is how to reconcile this with the lesson we are taught (Mishna 21) ?If there is no knowledge, there is no fear.? So how is it possible to ever have fear precede his knowledge? (The Mishna there continues ?If there is no fear, there is no knowledge? so the parallel question is how is it ever possible to have knowledge precede fear, since there can be no knowledge without fear.) The difficulties are resolved as follows. Certainly his knowledge will fully endure if fear of sin precedes the knowledge. And if his knowledge precedes fear of sin, the knowledge has no endurance at all. The meaning of ?fear of sin preceding his knowledge? means that he begins the process (of acquiring knowledge) with a dimension of fear, even though he hasn?t yet acquired knowledge. Then when he acquires knowledge, he becomes fully fearful of sin. Similarly, ?one whose knowledge precedes his fear? means he began the process of acquiring knowledge before he fears sin. It is true that ?if there is no knowledge there is no fear, and if there is no fear, there is no knowledge.? But the meaning of that lesson is that if there is no fear, the knowledge is not complete. And without knowledge, the fear is not complete. But to say one can find no fear whatsoever without knowledge, or no knowledge whatsoever without fear, is certainly not correct. (Some elaboration on the connection between ?knowledge? and ?fear? is in order. ?Knowledge? embodies two dimensions: knowing the facts of the physical natural world, which is certainly available to man even without recognition of a Divine, transcendent source of that knowledge. And Divine, transcendent truth of the ultimate reality. The former is available without the need for fear of a Creator, and can be available to man with no need for a sense of sin, of ?right and wrong.? Similarly, one can have fear, whether it be of the power of human control or the forces of nature, without any real knowledge of the ultimate reality. These are the ?beginnings? to which the Maharal refers. One can have some dimension of knowledge without any recognition or fear of a Creator. And one can have a dimension of fear even before one has acquired knowledge. But for one to acquire true ?chochma?, the knowledge of the true reality, he must first have a recognition of the source of that reality, fear of the Creator (implied in Mishna 21) and that there are consequences to a person?s actions (fear of sin discussed in our Mishna). And for one to acquire true and complete fear, one must have knowledge of the vast and complete reality created by G-d.)

Text Copyright ? 2015 by

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.