this week’s portion we find an extremely interesting quote: “Now O Israel,
what does G-d ask of you? Only to have yirah,
fear of G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve G-d with all
your heart and all your soul.” (Deut. Ch.10 V.12).
seems to be quite a lofty undertaking being mentioned to the Jewish people.
Why is it prefaced by the word “only”?
are three imperatives mentioned here: fear of G-d, imitation of G-d, and love of
three are listed in ascending order of what each Jew is meant to reach in his
lifetime. Fear leads to imitation, which leads to love.
Ohr Hachayim notes that the use of the word “only” is telling us the minimal
expectation that G-d has for us is to fear Him.
would that be?
What does G-d gain from having us fear Him?
us first understand what it means to fear G-d.
are two meanings to the word in the verse “yirah”.
One translation is fear of G-d due to an awareness that G-d is all-seeing and
all-knowing. When one has the realization that G-d created the world for a
purpose (a conclusion reached by any rational person) he understands that he is
hurting the world by his negative actions. This brings him to a fear of G-d as
G-d is the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, and he is afraid of punishment
(another week, we will delve into the topic of how punishment works, and how it
is only corrective / rehabilitative, never vindictive). This is the lowest level
There is another level of yirah, much
higher than this one. This is the level of awe. This is where a person is in awe
of G-d, awed by His greatness.
does a person reach this level of yirah —
Slonimer Rebbe, gives a beautiful explanation. The word yirah is composed of four letters: yud, reish, alef and hay.
These same letters also spell the word r’iya—to
see. The Rebbe explains that the way a person reaches the level of fear of G-d,
or ideally awe of G-d, is to see:
to look around, to be perceptive, to see the gifts of nature and the
pattern of history, to make our minds inquisitive to the mysteries of the world.
Through this “seeing”, a person will have an awe of G-d. And through this
perception, this awe, he will want to imitate the ways of our Creator. And
through this imitation, he will eventually achieve the highest level — love.
This is the path Avraham (Abraham) followed. This is the potential path for each and every Jew to follow. It might seem like a difficult path, but the reward at the end, which is knowledge and connection with G-d, is so awesome, the requirements to reach it are rightfully preceded by the word “only”.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the Outreach Director at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.