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Parshat Ekev

"And now, Israel, what is Hashem asking of you, except that you should fear Hashem your G-d, walk in His ways, love Him, and serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul. To keep the mitzvot of Hashem and His statutes, which I am commanding you today, for your good" (x, 12-13).

The Gemara in Berachot (33b) states: "Said Rabbi Chanina: All is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven, as it says, 'And now, Israel, what is Hashem asking of you, except that you should fear.' Now is the fear of Heaven a small matter? Did not Rabbi Chanina state in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Hakadosh Baruch Hu has nothing in his archives except a treasury of fear of Heaven, as it says, 'The fear of Hashem is His treasure'? Yes – for Moshe it is a small matter, as Rabbi Chanina said: This is comparable to man who is asked for a large vessel and he has it; it seems to him a small vessel. [If he is asked for] a small one but he does not have it, it seems to him a large vessel."

Many ask about this Gemara: did not Moshe know that what he considered a small vessel is seen by others as a lofty level which is difficult to attain? If this is a hard requirement for others, why does Moshe ignore this, and demand that everyone live at his level? Is Moshe detached from the people? (Today, too, we hear similar claims against the Rabbis' leadership, that they are detached from the people and reality. They sit in their ivory towers of learning and send forth slogans regarding the love of Israel at a time when all is burning around them. They speak of great and deep powers of belief at a time that appears to present a crisis of faith.)

Yet an examination of the words of the Gemara will clarify matters. Rabbi Chanina suggested a parable of a person who is asked for a large vessel and he has it, that it seems to him to be a small vessel etc. this parable does not only refer to Moshe who possesses the vessel whereas we do not have it. Rather, all possess the vessel. The fear of Heaven refers to the relationship between the world and man and between Hakadosh Baruch Hu: the understanding of the all-encompassing Divinity, as opposed to the nullity of humanity, the unchanging totality of Hakadosh Baruch Hu versus the fleeting and feeble nature of humankind. Man, as one possessing a soul that emanates from lofty Divinity which knows that its entire essence and self comes directly from the Divine, if he will only remove the foreskin of his heart which covers the purity of life, he will achieve true fear of Heaven. Fear of Heaven is the more natural and profound state of our souls, yet we ignore it and so it appears to us to be a vessel we do not possess. When the Gemara says that for Moshe fear of Heaven is a small matter, it refers to Moshe's perspective towards us, meaning that for our pure selves the fear of Heaven is a small matter. The problem is that we reflect on ourselves from a narrow and partial viewpoint, and therefore fear of Heaven appears to us to be a tall mountain that we are unable to climb. We are demanded to open are our eyes and reflect with a more correct and perfect viewpoint, that of Moshe. (The arguments that we quoted earlier against the Rabbis can be treated likewise. It can be claimed that many times these notions stem from the external aspect of life and reality. Were these people to reflect on the depths of life and on the revelation of the hidden Divine truth, they would discover that the words of the sages are true.)

This is why Moshe concludes, "To keep the mitzvot of Hashem… for your good" (13). Fear of Heaven and the service of Hashem do not demand of a person that he break his strengths and enslave his own self to G-d, but rather they form the true expression of our selves, and this is therefore our true good, that is, 'for your good.' It can be suggested that this is also Moshe's meaning when he says, "… what is Hashem asking of you…" – fear of heaven is of you, it is with you, and it does not require the breaking of any of your life's strengths. Moshe opens with "And now, Israel, what is Hashem asking of you…" Rashi explains: "Even though you have done all this, His compassion and affection is still held out towards you, and despite all your sins He asks of you only that you should fear."

According to our approach, a slightly different explanation can be offered. Moshe Rabeinu reminds the children of Israel that as soon as they received the Torah they sinned with the golden calf, and he also mentions that "At Tav'erah and at Massah and at Kivrot Hata'avah, you angered Hashem" (ix, 22), and he continues by hinting at the sin of the spies: "And when Hashem sent you from Kadesh Barnea saying, 'Ascend and conquer the land that I have given you,' but you rebelled against the word of Hashem your G-d, and you did not believe in Him, nor did you listen to His voice" (23), and Moshe summarizes: "You have been rebellious towards Hashem your G-d from the day I have known you" (24). He mentions all these sins in the middle of his account of the golden calf even though chronologically they do not belong here. Moshe opens the subsequent parsha with "And now, Israel, what is Hashem asking of you, except that you should fear Hashem your G-d…" (12), thereby teaching us that despite all these serious sins we are still commanded regarding the fear of Hashem, for it exists inside us and its roots cannot be damaged. Although our external sins hide our pure, Divine soul from us, the inner truth is always present, even at the hour of sin. The previous chapter (the chapter of the golden calf) concludes with the pasuk: "And Hashem said to me, Arise and go travel before the people, that they should come and inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them" (10-11); the command concerning the fear of Hashem follows immediately. The Torah places the inheritance of the land alongside the fear of Heaven. We also find this connection earlier, in chapter viii. "And you shall keep the mitzvot of Hashem your G-d, to go in His ways and to fear Him. For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land of steams of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills" (6-7). In chapter viii the fear of Heaven precedes the land, whereas in chapter x the land comes before the fear of Heaven. Eretz Yisrael possesses powerful forces, both material and spiritual, that can lead to a lofty and pure fear of Heaven. Conversely, these forces can cause confusion and the feeling that everything is dependent on our actions and strength alone. Therefore, in preparation to entering the land the Torah emphasizes the fear of Heaven to us (chapter viii), and after we arrive in the land we must elevate the fear of Heaven to loftier heights and then it will be a loftier fear (chapter x). (In our day the need for fear of Heaven in our connection to the land is most evident, as those who connected to the land without the fear of Heaven have wearied of the effort required to settle the land in its entirety. Those who posses only a low level of fear of Heaven do not have a full understanding of the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to the service of Hashem, and that the practical connection to Eretz Yisrael will raise them up to a pure and complete fear of Hashem.)
When Avraham Aveinu stays in Gerar, "And Avraham said about Sarah his wife, 'She is my sister'…" (Beraishit xx, 22). Avimelech calls for Avraham: "And he said to him, What have you done to us, and what is my sin to you?" (9) "And Avraham said: for I said, yet there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will kill me over the matter of my wife" (11). The Netziv explains: "Although here in Gerar one does find common decency and human morals, yet this does not result from fear of G-d but rather from human intelligence. Someone who possesses no fear of G-d cannot, however, overcome his inclination, which influences the mind of man." Without fear of Heaven the "moral" person can cause many wrongs. Rav Kook writes in a similar vein: "Secular morality boasts no depths and does not enter the inner parts of the soul, even though it influences a person for the good through his recognizing what is upright in words of sense, (nonetheless) this guidance cannot withstand the storms of various lusts when they make a powerful appearance. It is all the more true that this forced morality cannot guide the generality, the human community in all its depth and size. There is no other method but that we should be guided by the Divine morality" (Orot Hakodesh III, p. 2).
When the nation is being formed as a generality, rather than as individuals, there is a great need for the Divine morality that stems from a lofty fear of Heaven. We see with our own eyes people who assert "morality" and "justice" acting in destructive, rather than moral, ways, and all this with great force because of the increase of our strengths in Eretz Yisrael. We have confidence in the inner purity of the nation as a whole, and the lofty fear of Heaven will undoubtedly be revealed out of all the darkness and crises, and we will all speedily merit the light of Hashem.

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