In Parshat Ekev- Moshe Rabbenu continues to recount the tumultuous history of Israel and the significant contribution of the Torah’s ‘mitzvot-commandments’ in directing Israel in the path of goodness and holiness. In one central passage he summarizes the conclusion that we must draw from all this:
“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God request of you?
Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD’s commandments and laws, which I am enjoining upon you today, for your own good.” (Dvarim 10:12)
The first step in this spiritual journey is ‘יראת השם-Fear of God’. This is a concept and a requirement that can be very misunderstood. It’s true meaning and application must be clarified.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook reflects on a Talmudic midrash as he teaches us about the right and wrong way to fear God. The Midrash states:
“Abayeh used to say: One must always be עָרוּם בְּיִרְאָה- shrewd in fear of God.
One must fulfill the verse: “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1) and take steps to increase peace with one’s brethren and with one’s relatives, and with all people, even with a non-Jew in the marketplace, so that he will be loved above in God’s eyes, pleasant below in the eyes of the people, and acceptable to all of God’s creatures.” (Brachot 17:a)
Rav Kook explains:
“There is a difference between someone who fears God according to their intellect and one who is only reliant on their power of imagination.
The perspective ruled by imagination imagines that the only focus in fearing God is God and it does not have a connection to proper behavior, humanity and respect for all creatures. They think that since fear of God fills all one’s heart and feelings, there is no room in the heart for one’s obligations to humankind.
Someone who looks at fear of God from the perspective of the intellect recognizes that the purpose of fearing God is to motivate one to repair all their ways in the best and most pleasant manner.
They will thus draw multitudes to true fear, devotion and paths of good.
Thus a person should not follow after their imaginary depiction, but after the guidance of their intellect regarding fear of God. They will then understand that the offshoots of true Divine fear are respecting all creatures and cultivating the paths of peace and proper behavior.
Then ‘your soft answers will turn away wrath,’ and you will ‘speak peacefully with your brother and relatives, with all humans-even a non-Jewish stranger in the market’.
The fear and cleaving to God will not prevent you from fulfilling these human obligations that are the splendorous crown of humanity. Through them we sanctify the Name of Heaven and increase true fear of God in the world…
The truly wise must investigate deeply with his intellect in order to purify their understanding without the garments of a false imagination. Then they will be truly called ערום-shrewd in fear of God.” (Eyn Aya: Brachot 2-60)
Rav Kook elaborates further in his mussar-ethical masterpiece-Midot haRayah:The Moral Principles:
“The concept of the fear of God lends strength to the person who understands it in its purity. It endows life with interest and great aspirations and with a level of spirituality which refines the potentialities of the soul with the light of holiness…
Those who come close to God through the study of Torah and the quest for moral virtues- who are obviously far removed from evil deeds- must understand the concept of fear of God in terms that elevate and vitalize all the potentialities of the soul.
They must define fear as awe, which bears with it love and inner delight. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will grant the petitions of your heart.” (Ps. 37:40) (Midot HaRayah-Yiraah-3)
May we be blessed to fearlessly fear the Divine in ways that strengthen ‘love and inner light” and ‘elevate and vitalize all the potentialities of our soul.”
Quickly and in our days.
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, email@example.com, www.haorot.com ,