This week’s parsha contains the account of G-d’s giving the Torah to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai. About that great event the Torah states: “…And all of the people in the encampment trembled.(Exodus 19:16)” At the time that the Torah was given, and the presence of The Creator descended on Mount Sinai, the people who were gathered there trembled from fear. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz questioned the fear of the Children of Israel. “G-d was coming to give valuable gifts, and not to punish them. Why then, would they be so filled with fear?
Reb Yeruchem quotes an analogy to illustrate the answer. Once a wealthy man stood up with a purse filled with gold coins and announced that anyone who wished to borrow money from him was welcome to do so. Upon hearing his announcement, everyone began running in the other direction. No one wished to borrow money from him. Why was everyone running away? The reason is that it was known that when he comes to collect, no one can stand up to him. What would be if, by some chance, they would not have the money at the time the debt was due to be repaid? So too, G-d came down on Mount Sinai to give the Ten Commandments on which the world is founded, and the Children of Israel were trembling – what will be when G-d comes to exact payment from those who transgressed the words of the Torah?
Reb Yeruchem explains that the Children of Israel didn’t just think of the here and now. They understood that G-d may be giving them a valuable gift, but there is a responsibility attached to it. They understood the gravity of accepting G-d’s Torah, and it instilled fear in them, and they visibly trembled The Torah is life-giving, and its fulfillment carries with it a great reward, yet the Children of Israel hesitated and trembled because they looked at the whole picture – that there was an expectation from G-d, and consequences for not carrying it out successfully.
Reb Yeruchem explains that there is another personality trait we find in contradistinction from fear. That is false confidence. There are some people who only see why they have nothing to worry about in any given endeavor. They don’t take any possible risks into consideration, and in the end they find themselves in terrible danger and unfortunate predicaments.
Reb Yeruchem identifies the trait of “fear,” taking every possibility into consideration, as positive in other ways as well. He explains that when it comes to compromising one’s principles, a person who fears would not make excuses and give in. Someone who does not take possible risks in consideration always finds a reason why “in this case” principles can be compromised. Such a person is always plagued in the end by regrets. Several times in the Torah the positive trait of “fear” is noted in people who could have had good excuses to violate his/her principles, but didn’t. For example, Abraham, whom G-d commanded to bring Isaac as an offering to G-d. Abraham did all he could to fulfill G-d’s directive, and made no excuses, as valid as they would have been. Abraham is referred to as “someone who fears G-d.” Needless to say, the fear we are discussing here is a healthy, positive concern for one’s well being which leads to thoughtful action, as opposed to neurotic, baseless fear which leads to being petrified and unable to act.
We said that the Children of Israel trembled when G-d descended on Mount Sinai to give them the Torah. By extension we should note that on a constant basis G-d gives us life – a miraculous gift. Perhaps we need to tremble when we think about what we will answer when He comes to take it back!? It might be worth our while to apply this trait of “fear” accordingly when we make decisions in our lives, and when we think about living by principles, and being accountable for our actions. Perhaps we need to wonder whether we should rely on the excuses we sometimes make, or if maybe we are better than that. Are we only living for the here and now, or should we invest our energies in the future? Are we using this gift from G-d the way He intended us to? Our forefathers, The Children of Israel, answered these questions for themselves 3300 years ago. Let us take the time as well to give these questions some serious thought.