Friday- Shabbat, August 26 - 27

Torah Reading: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25)

Haftorah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 4
Learn more about Pirkei Avot here

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:19 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:18 PM

Shabbat Mevarchim - We Bless the New Month of Elul
Rosh Chodesh Elul is next Shabbat and Sunday, September 3 & 4
Molad for the New Moon: Friday, September 2, 1:56 & 3/18 AM

Halachic Times

Earliest Tefillin: 5:33 AM (latest of the week)
Latest Shma: 9:35 AM (earliest of the week)

For all halachic times, see www.chabadwestside.org/zmanim

B”H

EKEV

FEAR G-D? WHY NOT JUST LOVE?

Beginning or End?

Judaism is about our relationship with G‑d. All relationships involve our emotions. In the man-G‑d relationship, the Torah emphasizes the emotions of ahavah-love and yirah, generally translated as fear. Indeed, one of the most repeated demands G‑d makes of us in His Torah is to fear Him. For example, in last week’s parsha the Torah states:

“G‑d commanded us to perform all these statutes to fear G‑d…”

This verse makes the fear of G‑d to be the very goal, objective and end-all of Judaism.

And again in this week’s parsha the Torah states:

“And now Israel what does G‑d ask of you; only to fear Him...”

The very first thing mentioned here is fear of G‑d, which suggests how important it is relative to all the other traits and behaviors G‑d wants of us. Note the contrast between these two verses; in the preceding verse fear is the end point, in this verse it is the beginning. Indeed, King Solomon echoed this idea in Ecclesiastes, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G‑d.”

Which is it, the beginning or the end?

Fear in the Messianic Age?

If there is any doubt about the Torah’s placement of fear on the top of its objectives we find the prophet Yirmiyahu (32:39-40) referring to fear, and fear exclusively, as the ultimate nature of our relationship with G‑d in the Messianic Age.

“I will gather them out of all the countries where I have driven them…and I will bring them back to this place… And they shall be My people and I will be their G‑d. And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever… and I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.”

All of the above, at first glance, is difficult to comprehend. Why would fear of G‑d be placed at the beginning and the end of G‑d’s demands of us? Especially, with regard to the end wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say that the ultimate goal of observing G‑d’s commandments is to achieve love of G‑d? Why this great emphasis on fear?

Particularly with respect to the Messianic Age, when we will bask in G‑d’s radiance and the entire world will serve G‑d as one, it is puzzling to be told by the prophet in G‑d’s name that we will ultimately come to fear Him! While it may be necessary to instill fear in the hearts of uncivilized, immature, rebellious, or insensitive people who would not behave properly without an element of fear, why do the spiritually liberated people of the Messianic Era have to fear G‑d in order to keep themselves in check?

Moreover, the prophet does not even mention the love of G‑d. If it at least he would have mentioned fear and then love we might have explained it as a reference to different classes of people that will live in the initial period of the Final Redemption. There might be still some exile “holdouts” who are caught in a Galus time warp. For them it may be, temporarily, necessary to emphasize the fear element. But, in addressing the more sophisticated elements of the Messianic Age, the prophet should have mentioned the goal of loving G‑d.

This would have been a satisfactory explanation had the prophet mentioned both fear and love. However, the prophet leaves out love entirely and mentions only fear. Why?

The Uniqueness of the Holy Tongue

To answer these questions it is crucial that we recognize that our understanding of the demand to fear G‑d is based on a faulty premise. The Hebrew word yirah which is generally translated, not incorrectly, as fear actually has a completely different connotation.

And this is one of the problems with translating the Torah from its original into any other language, particularly English.

Hebrew, or more precisely, the Holy Tongue, the language of the Torah, is a concise and succinct language. One word can have multiple meanings. Moreover, in the Holy Tongue when a word has multiple meanings they may all be connected. The word then acquires a nuanced meaning that could not be conveyed by the individual translations.

Multiple Translations

Let us examine the various denotations/connotations of the word yirah: fear, respect, shame, awe, reverence, surrender of ego, and self-abnegation. When we recognize what all these translations have in common we will understand that yirah is indeed the most powerful and profound expression of our relationship with G‑d worthy of the future Messianic Age.

Let’s take the first and most frequent rendering of yirah as simple fear. In dissecting the anatomy of fear we should define two things: What is fear and when does a person experience fear?

Fear occurs when a person confronts an overwhelming person, thing or situation and reacts by recoiling and retreating. While love is attraction and a desire to get closer to the object of one’s love, fear is the opposite. We want to keep as far away from the source of fear as possible.

In simple language love is running towards something while fear is running away from it.

From this simple description of fear and how it differs from love another difference emerges.

When we experience love and are attracted to the object of our love it is actually a self-centered feeling. The object of our love will provide us with pleasure or benefit. Love is engendered when we recognize there is something that the other (person, thing or experience) has to offer and that it will enhance us. This is true whether what we love is physical or spiritual. If a person loves to learn Torah, for example, while it is an undeniably a virtuous love, there is an obvious sense of gain and pleasure to be experienced in that spiritual and noble exercise.

Fear on the other hand, expresses one’s helplessness and diminished state.

This is the common denominator of all the aforementioned connotations of the word yirah: fear, respect, shame, awe, reverence, surrender of ego, and self-abnegation. In all of these permutations the person retreats from the object of yirah.

When one has an awareness of G‑d’s greatness one feels diminished and humbled. In an unsophisticated and immature individual it manifests itself by a sense that G‑d is so powerful that doing something against Him will prove destructive. On this plane, our ego is greatly contracted, but it is still not totally self-effacing; there is a sense of not wanting to lose or diminish our existence. We are looking out for ourselves even as we are humbled.

Deeper Levels: Shame and Self-Abnegation

On a deeper level yirah is a sense of shame due to the realization of our shortcomings and limitations in relation to and in the presence of G‑d. In this mode, the degree of humility and diminution is more profound because we are not focused on saving our skin, as it were, but just to hide in shame realizing our own lowliness.

However, even in this level the focus is still on ourselves, albeit a diminished and humbled self. We are not trying to secure ourselves, but we feel embarrassed. There is an “I” that feels diminished.

On the highest rung, the person reaches such a sense of self-abnegation that the ego is totally removed and he or she becomes one with G‑d.

This explains Judaism’s emphasis on yirah, even more so than ahavah-love. Although a human being must encompass both, the ultimate level of connection to G‑d can only be achieved through the highest level of yirah. Even the most exalted level of love for G‑d dictates that our ego is still somewhere to be found and is made more whole and complete by our closeness to G‑d. Yirah, by contrast, transcends our ego and is the ultimate catalyst of growth for our souls. Indeed, this level only will be fully realized in the Messianic Age.

Lowest is Linked to the Highest

Chassidic philosophy maintains that although fear of G‑d is the lowest rung of yirah it has something in common with the highest level. First, when we express fear of something it indicates that we are totally aware of the presence of the other. Indeed, the wordyirah can also be read as “see.” One who sees the presence of the formidable other will recoil in fear.

It may also be suggested that the English word “fear” as well as the word “aware” both derive from the dual sense of the wordyirah, which is an awareness that generates fear.

In addition, even the lowest level of yirah/fear shares another characteristic with the highest level of yirah: the loss of ego. The mere fact that it shares that characteristic is an indication that inherent in and underlying the fear is a spark of awe and reverence to the point of self-abnegation. This spark is waiting to be ignited into a full-fledged awareness of G‑d and unity with Him.

As we stand on the threshold of the Final Redemption when the highest level of yirah will be manifest, we can prepare for it even by experiencing the lowest levels of awareness. This awareness begins at the start of our day when we awaken and recognize that we are alive and in G‑d’s presence.

That awareness is followed by the recitation of the Modeh Ani prayer, in which we thank G‑d for simply being alive. But even this simple “low level” acknowledgment begins with the word Modeh-thanks and only afterwards is followed by the word “ani-I.” In English translation it would read, “Thanks I give.” Why is thanks mentioned before I?

Because inherent and embedded in this simple declaration of our awareness of G‑d is a spark of the highest level of yirah-awareness.

We should therefore never underestimate the simplest positive gestures, for they contain great spiritual treasures that await our discovery and use and which pave the way for the attainment of the highest levels of yirah with the imminent arrival of Moshiach.

Moshiach Matters:

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch once asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, about the year 5608 (1848) which had been described as a particularly probable time for the long-awaited Redemption: "How could it be that Moshiach has not arrived?" The Tzemach Tzedek replied: "But Likutei Torah was published!" (I.e., since this was a significant step in the dissemination of the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov, it could be understood as a spiritual step in the direction of the Redemption. "Yes," answered Rabbi Shmuel, "but we want and need Moshiach simply and literally, here in this physical world."