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To Fear G-d.

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
August 22, 2019

Bertrand Russell (a British philosopher and mathematician who was a foremost proponent of atheism in the early 20th century) once was asked what he will respond if after he dies he meets G-d and He will judge him for his lack of belief.

Russell responded that he would ask G-d, why He didn’t provide sufficient evidence of His existence.

Hashem might respond, why didn’t you exercise your common sense and look beyond the secular surface of the world, and see the overwhelming evidence of My existence and of My Holy Torah.

How could it be possible for such an orderly world to come into existence?

The oxygen levels in the air are exact, the beautifying scenery, the flowing sea, the lush fields, mans intellect. All these are gifts from our Creator.

Belief in Hashem is one step, but the next step is to ask, what is it that Hashem desires from us?

In this week’s Parasha Moshe asks this exact question.

The problem is that Moshe presents the petition as if it were a simple feat. He says, “And now Israel, what does G-d want of you? Only that you fear G-d your Lord (Deuteronomy 10:12).”

Moshe makes it sound as though the fear of G-d is only a minor matter.

The Gemara Berachot asks: Is the fear of G-d such a small thing?

The Gemara relates how Rabbi Chanina said in the name of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: The Holy One, blessed be He, has in His treasury nothing except a stockpile of the fear of heaven, as it says, “The fear of G-d is His treasure” (Isaiah 33: 6). Obviously if fear of G-d is so cherished by the Almighty, it must be very difficult to attain.

The Gemara answers: True! For it was Moshe who said this verse and for Moshe fear of G-d was a small thing.

Rabbi Chanina said “This is comparable to a person who is asked for a large vessel which he has; it seems to him like a small vessel. A small vessel which he doesn’t have; it seems to him like a large vessel.” Yirat Shamayim is, indeed, a “large vessel,” and not something simple. However, since Moshe had already acquired this trait, he viewed it merely as a “small vessel,” and was able to say “only.”

Ok, so we know that for Moshe it was simple, but just because it was easy for Moshe, who says it is easy for us? So why does Moshe imply to the people that fear of G-d is simple. Surely he is relating the Torah to us, and for him it might be a walk over, but for us it is not!?

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber, founder of Toldot Yeshurun, an organization that re-educates estranged Russian Jews about the heritage that was snatched from them, is known as the Father of contemporary Russian Jewry. A native of Kazan, Russia, Rabbi Zilber was born just before the Russian Revolution in 1917, but was discreetly taught Torah by his revered father and not only completed Shas several times during his years in Russia, but also taught Torah to many others. During World War II, he was imprisoned in Stalin’s gulag where, yet he managed to remain Shomer Shabbat despite the inhumane conditions. He later had to flee from the KGB, which wanted to arrest him for his Torah activities in Russia. In 1972, he immigrated to Israel. As he walked off the airplane on his arrival in Israel and embraced the custom agent.

“Chavivi! My dear one! Shouted Rabbi Zilber as he gave the man a bear-hug embrace. It is so wonderful to be here and talk to a Jew like a Jew!” The man offered a polite smile and a pleasant Shalom.

“Please tell me”, pleaded Rabbi Zilber with an intensity that seemed to announce a question whose answer would solve all the problems facing Jews for the millennia. “For years I am struggling with this problem. Please tell me, how did you understand the K’tzot HaChoshen on the Sugya of Areiv?” (The K’tzot HaChoshen is a classical commentary on the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, Code of Jewish Law.)

“Ma zeh K’tzot haChoshen. (What is a K’tzot HaChoshen)?” Came the reply.

Rabbi Zilber was puzzled. He tried another query.

“Maybe you can explain how you understood the Mishne in (tractate) Uktzin in the last chapter?”

“Mishne? Uktzin? K’tzot? What are you talking about?”

Rabbi Zilber, recalling the difficulties he had trying to teach and study Torah in Russia was mortified. In honest shock, he asked the man.

“How is this possible? You mean to tell me that you live here in Israel and have the ability to learn Torah. And you don’t know what the Ktzot is? You never heard of Mishne Uktzin?”

Rabbi Zilber began to cry.

They say that the customs agent was so moved by Rabbi Zilber’s simple sincerity that he began to study Torah.

Perhaps the Gemara is telling us the simple truth. It was important for an entire nation to see the man to whom fear of heaven was considered the simplest and most rudimentary aspect of life. To Moshe, fear of Heaven was natural. As a leader, he had the imperative to impress the nation, with his sincerity. To us simple Jews, it is important to see someone whose Jewish observance is as simple and graceful as if it is second nature. To us it may be a struggle, but it is imperative that the benchmark of our goals is someone to whom fear comes natural.

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