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Torah Attitude: Parashas Eikev: What does G'd want of us?
G'd created this world to bestow goodness upon mankind. How does that go hand in hand with the instruction that all G'd wants of us is to fear Him? There are two levels of fear. The simple level is a fear of being punished for any wrongdoing. G'd created the world with the intent to reward those who choose to do what is right. He therefore had to establish freedom of choice. The higher level is a fear to cause displeasure to G'd Who constantly bestows every human being with boundless goodness and blessings. For Moses, fear of G'd was a small matter. "Everything is in the hands of Heaven but fear of Heaven". The "counsel of G'd" refers to the thought that G'd instills in a person's mind. Using our fear of G'd, we will be able to make the right choice and make sure that we do not desecrate G'd's name. Every person has within him the ability to be righteous like Moses. Moses and Aaron were equal in the sense that they both utilized their talents and capabilities to the fullest to serve G'd. Someone who strives to be truly G'd fearing will also do his best to utilize everything he has to serve G'd.
G'd wants us to fear Him?
In this week's parasha, it says (Devarim 10:12): "And now, Israel, what does HASHEM your G'd ask of you, but to fear HASHEM your G'd …" This seems odd. Why would G'd want us to fear Him? True, He is our King, but at the same time He is our loving Father Who looks after every need we have. What good father wants his children to fear him? Even more, Rabbi Chaim Moishe Luzatto (The Way of G'd, Part I, Chapter 2) explains that G'd's raison d'?tre for creating this world was to bestow goodness upon mankind, so how does that go hand in hand with this instruction that all G'd wants from us is to fear Him?
Simple level of fear
In order to clarify this we must understand what the Torah means when it says that G'd wants us to fear Him. Rabbi Luzatto (Path of the Just, chapter 24) explains that there are two levels of fear of G'd. The simple level is a fear of being punished for any wrongdoing. Anyone who believes in G'd, and believes that G'd rewards for every good deed and punishes for every wrongdoing, will find it easy to live with the fear of being punished. And we can well understand the need for this fear. This is similar to every country that establishes laws and regulations. They must include penalties and other punishments to ensure that people will follow the laws.
Freedom of choice
G'd created the world with the intent of rewarding those who choose to do what is right. He therefore had to give man freedom of choice. This is very different from any country or society that has been established and needs a set of laws to ensure that they do not do anything wrong. In order to merit reward, we must be able to choose good from evil, otherwise what are we rewarded for? At the same time, the reward functions as an incentive that we do what is right. Similarly, the Torah warns us of G'd's punishment to assist us to refrain from transgressing any of the Torah's commandments.
Higher level of fear
This is all based on the simple level of fear of G'd. But, says Rabbi Luzatto, there is a higher level of fear of G'd that everyone should strive to achieve. This is not a fear where one is scared of the consequence of doing wrong. This is a fear to cause displeasure to G'd Who constantly bestows every human being with boundless goodness and blessings. The simple level of fear is comparable to the relationship between a servant and his master, where the servant is scared of the consequences of doing anything wrong. The higher level is comparable to the reverence a son feels towards his father. The child, in appreciation of all the good that the father does, is constantly concerned not to upset him. The commentaries explain that it is this higher level of fear of G'd that the Torah is referring to in the above verse. G'd does not want us to be scared of Him, but rather that we shall have a proper understanding of why He created us and placed us in this world. Such an appreciation will bring us to feel reverence for G'd.
Small matter for Moses
However, this appreciation requires that we evaluate every act to make sure it is in accordance with the commandments of the Torah, and that we will not do anything that could cause the desecration of G'd's name. This is no small feat. It requires a lot of thought to understand the will of G'd and His Torah. So why does the Torah make small change of this? It sounds like the Torah is saying, "What is the big deal that G'd is asking? He is just asking you to fear Him." The Talmud (Berachos 33b) addresses this and asks, "Is this a small matter?" The Talmud answers, "Yes for Moses it is a small matter." This does not really help us. The Torah was not given just to Moses. Every commandment in the Torah is given to all of us. Every boy who turns 13 and every girl who turns 12 are obligated to observe all applicable commandments. How can they be expected to reach this level of fear of G'd?
Our main obligation
The Talmud (ibid) explains that fear of Heaven is our main obligation. The Talmud says, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven but fear of Heaven". In every area of our lives there are many aspects that are beyond our control. We can try and look after our health, but at the end of the day, we are not in control of preserving it. We have many opportunities to try and make a living, but there are an untold number of circumstances beyond our control. As it says earlier in this week's parasha (8:18): "And you shall remember HASHEM your G'd, that it is He Who gives you strength to make wealth."
Counsel of G'd
The Targum Onkelus translates "that it is He Who gives you strength", as it is G'd Who puts an idea into a person's mind when and how to acquire his assets. This corresponds to what King Solomon (Mishlei 19:21) says: "There are many thoughts in the heart of man, but it is the counsel of G'd that will prevail." As the Vilna Gaon explains, the "counsel of G'd" refers to the thought that G'd instills into a person's mind. There are many thoughts that a person thinks, but it is the thought that G'd puts in his mind that will make him succeed.
Choose what is right
So what is left for us? The answer is, as the Talmud says, anything that is related to the fear of G'd. When we are about to make a transaction we must discern who put the thought into our head. For sure, if the transaction involves anything prohibited by the Torah, including anything illegal, this is not a G'd given idea. Rather, this is our evil inclination challenging us with a test. Even with a low level of fear of G'd, we will be able to choose what is right, and make sure that we do not desecrate G'd's name. This is why the Torah adds an admonition to fear G'd whenever we are instructed about a commandment that others cannot know what our real intent is (see Vayikra 25:17 and Rashi ibid). For in this way, our fear of G'd must act as our conscience.
Righteous like Moses
We still need to clarify why the Torah presents this as a minor issue. And what does the Talmud mean when it says that it is not a big deal for Moses? We may be able to answer this with the words of the Rambam. The Rambam (Laws of Teshuva 5:2) writes that every person has the ability to be righteous like Moses. This is difficult to understand. For it seems to contradict what it says at the end of the Torah (Devarim 34:10): "Never again has a prophet arisen in Israel like Moses …"
Moses and Aaron were equal
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks a similar question. Sometimes Moses is mentioned in the Torah before Aaron, and sometimes Aaron is mentioned first. Rashi quotes from our sages (Shemos 6:26) that this comes to teach us that they are both equal. Rabbi Feinstein asks, if Moses was the greatest prophet ever, how can Aaron be his equal? He answers that every person has his specialty and no two people are the same. Moses and Aaron were equal in the sense that they both utilized their talents and capabilities to the fullest to serve G'd.
Strive to be truly G'd fearing
This may be what the Rambam is referring to when he says that every person can be like Moses. For we can all utilize whatever G'd has blessed us with to the fullest. Every person who strives to be a truly G'd fearing person will do their best to utilize everything they have to serve G'd. Such a person will naturally come to incorporate his fear of G'd in all his actions. Once one has accomplished this, it will be easy, just like it was easy for Moses. It is within the reach of every one of us. And whoever chooses this route will have tremendous Divine assistance. But it is up to us to take the first step.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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