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"Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave, and in His Name shall you swear."

In Hebrew, the word es itself has no meaning in the translation. Nouns and pronouns mean the same whether or not they are preceded by it. Nevertheless, someone in the Talmud taught that whenever it appears, it is meant to add something. An example is the commandment to honor your father and mother. The Torah writes, "Kabed es avicha v'es imechah." The two words, es and v'es, are superfluous. However, the Gemara (Kesuvos 103a) interprets these words to add one's stepfather and stepmother to the obligation.

There is a very interesting story related in the Gemara (Pesachim 22b):

Shim'on Ha'amsuni, and some say it was Nechemiah Ha'amsuni, would interpret every es in the Torah. Once he came to the passage, "Es Hashem Elokechah tira - Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear," he quit (Rashi explains that he said, "What can I add that should be feared along with Hashem?" Therefore he regretted all the other appendages which he had interpreted since he reasoned that if this one did not come to add anything then none of them did). His students said to him, "Our Teacher, what will be of all of the esim which you interpreted?" He replied, "Just as I received reward for interpreting them, so will I receive reward for refraining from interpreting them." Until Rabi Akiva came and explained, "Es Hashem Elokechah tira - Hashem, your G-d, shall you fear," this (the es) comes to add Torah Scholars (Rashi explains that the fear of one's Rabbi should be equal to the fear of Heaven).

When I was a young man learning in the Kolel, my chavrusa, Levi Pecker, told me a fantastic vort (I don't remember in whose name, perhaps his father-in-law's). He asked why Rabi Akiva was able to understand the proper interpretation of the passage more than Shim'on Ha'amsuni.

He answered that Rabi Akiva actually learned the meaning by observing Shim'on Ha'amsuni himself. Here was a great Torah scholar whose life's work was darshening (interpreting) all of the esim in the Torah. Every single one of them fit except one! What would we have done in such a situation? If we have a theory in the Gemara and we can prove it from a few places, then we are convinced of its authenticity. If we find some other place which contradicts our way of learning, we still insist that we are right, since we have so many proofs, and we merely note that we have to give thought to the place where it does not fit. But Shim'on Ha'amsuni totally abandoned his way of learning because of one problem. When Rabi Akiva saw this, he was so filled with awe for the Rabbi that he realized that we must add to the mitzvah of fearing Hashem one's fear for true Torah scholars so that the fear and awe of one's rabbi should be like the fear of Heaven.

We can understand this incredible vort more deeply with something my Rebby, shlita, once taught us. The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 3:3) relates that Rabbi Shim'on be Shatach purchased a donkey from an Arab. His students went and discovered a precious stone tied around the animal's throat. They said, "Our Rabbi, ‘The blessing of Hashem makes one rich' (Mishlei 10:22)" (since according to the Halachah he was allowed to keep it). But the Sage replied, "I bought a donkey, not a precious stone." With that, he went and returned the jewel. The Arab was so impressed that he said, "Blessed is Hashem, the G-d of Shim'on ben Shatach."

My Rebby asked (perhaps in the name of his Mashgiach, Harav Hatzaddik Reb Shlomo Harkavi ztvk"l) why did the Arab bless Hashem? He should merely have said, "Blessed is Shim'on ben Shatach," since it was his integrity which so impressed him.

The Rebby explained that the Gentile understood that no philosopher, major in etiquette or any other good-doer was capable of performing so great an act. To return a precious jewel which the owner himself didn't realize he had lost was not a natural human act. The Arab understood that only super-human powers within a person could motivate him to be so principled. Only someone who was trying to emulate G-d and go in His ways would do such a thing. Therefore he praised not Shim'on ben Shatach, but his G-d Who had taught him to be so righteous.

The Rebby explained further that this is the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name among people. What it entails is doing phenomenal acts which everyone realizes are only possible to those devout, G-d fearing individuals who cling to Him and are not bound by human limitations.

This is what Rabi Akiva saw in Shim'on Ha'amsuni. Only a man of G-d could be so selfless. Consequently, he realized that he would not be minimizing Hashem's honor if he interpreted the mitzvah to fear Hashem to include Torah scholars too. On the contrary, it would only signify that Hashem dwells within the true Torah scholars and therefore one must fear them like he fears Heaven.

Let us try to emulate the great leaders of Israel and go in the ways of Hashem, sanctifying His name wherever we go.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel