Is Fear Of Hashem Something So Insignificant?

August 06 2009
Moshe Rabenu asks the Jewish people: "and now Israel what does Hashem your G-d ask of you but to fear Hashem" (Devarim 10:12). The Gemara asks regarding this pasuk: "is yirat Shamayim something so insignificant?" (Brachot 32b), to which the Gemara responds: "yes, for Moshe Rabenu it is something very small" (ibid.). There have been many who have struggled to explain the Gemara's response. After all, the Torah is not speaking specifically to Moshe Rabenu and not even to Elazar and Itamar, rather to each and every Jew even on the simplest level. Some have explained that Moshe, with his tremendous humility, considered himself as being less than everyone else. Thus, if fearing Hashem is a simple task for him then it must be quite easy for everyone else. We are forbidden to give such an explanation, Moshe certainly knew who he was and that he was not on a lesser level than the rest of the nation.

I once related to the Rav (HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l) the following incident: R' Akiva Eiger once received a letter to which he responded: "Dear HaRav HaGaon, Rashkebehag ("Rosh kol bnei hagola" - the leader of all the Diaspora"), etc." The recipient subsequently met R' Akiva Eiger and pointed out that he was not a Rav, nor a Gaon, and certainly not a Rashkebehag. R' Akiva Eiger responded that neither was he, but since he receives such letters all the time, perhaps this is how all formal letters begin. The Rav claimed that this story cannot be true, and it must be the invention of one of the maskilim looking to discredit R' Akiva Eiger. R' Akiva Eiger was extremely modest and honored his fellow gedolim, yet he knew who he was. He ruled on many halachic issues without deferring to others. This is not in contradiction to his humility. He certainly did not confer the title Rashkebehag on a simple ordinary Jew. (This leads me to a question regarding what we have just said in the name of the Rav. We know that the Rav was not fond of being praised, and when he was referred to as posek hador - ruling authority of the generation, he would really go out of his mind, if a person must know who he is, how is it that he himself did not realize that he was the posek hador? I do not have any answer to this). Based on what we have just said, the Gemara cannot mean that Moshe viewed himself as insignificant.

Perhaps we can explain as follows: the Torah is trying to teach us that each of us has the capability of rising to the level of Moshe Rabenu (clearly this does not refer to level of prophecy, for there has never been a prophet on the level of Moshe Rabenu, but in other areas). The Rambam even writes that everyone has the choice to become a Moshe Rabenu. In that case, if and when a person does approach the level of Moshe Rabenu, fearing Hashem will then be considered something insignificant.

Some have explained that legabei Moshe, which we explained above to mean regarding Moshe, really means next to Moshe. In other words, for one who is in Moshe's proximity and hears Moshe Rabenu's teachings, learns from Moshe's behavior, for him fearing Hashem is insignificant.

Each day we recite the pasuk: "Pote-ach et yadecha umasbia lechol chai ratzon" "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Tehillim 145:15). The simple interpretation of this pasuk is that Hashem fulfills the desires of each person. Does this really occur? Are there not many things that we wish for, which Hashem does not in fact give us? The intent of the pasuk must therefore be that Hashem does not give man what he (man) thinks he wants, but what he wants in reality. What a person thinks he wants is only a surface illusion, while deep down he may wish for something totally different. Hashem can see what is beneath the surface and what man's true desires are. It is regarding this desire alone that we are told: "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing".

A proof for this explanation can be found in the incident involving the daughters of Tzlafchad which we read in Parshat Pinchas. We read of the daughters of Tzlafchad's claim to their father's inheritance in the Land of Israel, to which Hashem concurs and commands Moshe to provide them with this share. Immediately following this incident, the Torah records Moshe's asking Hashem: "May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly" (Bamidbar 27:16). Rashi explains the juxtaposition: "Once Moshe heard that the Omnipresent said to him 'give Tzlafchad's inheritance to his daughters', he said 'the time has come that I should claim what I need, that my sons should inherit my high position'". It was Moshe's desire that his spiritual legacy as leader of the Jewish nation be passed on to his sons.

Hashem's response was: "Take to yourself Yehoshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit" (Bamidbar 27:18). Not only will Moshe's children not inherit the leadership from their father, but the future leader was not even destined to be a member of the same tribe as Moshe - it will be Yehoshua bin Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim. We thus see that the request of Moshe Rabenu - greatest of all prophets appears not to have been realized. Where then is the fulfillment of "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing"? According to Rashi, Moshe's request was fulfilled to some degree. The pasuk states: "before Elazar the Kohen shall he stand" (ibid. 21), on which Rashi comments: "Here you have the granting of your request for which you asked, that this honor will not move away from the house of your father, for Yehoshua will also need Elazar". Yehoshua will be the leader, but he will be unable to wage war or divide the land without seeking the counsel of the Urim veTumim worn by Elazar. Yehoshua, in other words, will always require the services of Elazar HaKohen, nephew of Moshe Rabenu, thus we see that to some degree the leadership remained "in the family". Rashi's explanation does not offer much consolation. Was it not specifically his sons that Moshe Rabenu requested to inherit his position, and not his student or his nephew? Our original question remains: where do we see here any satisfaction of his desires?

Perhaps the explanation lies in an analysis of Akedat Yitzchak, the binding of Yitzchak. Hashem commanded Avraham Avinu: "please take your son, your only one, whom you love - Yitzchak" (Bereishit 22:2). Rashi quotes from Chazal the response of Avraham: "I have two sons". Hashem told him: "your only one", to which Avraham responded "this one is the only one of his mother and this one is the only one of his mother". Hashem continued: "whom you love", to which Avraham responded "I love both of them, can I delve down into my inner feelings to decide which one I love more"? Hashem's final directive was "Take Yitzchak". Does Avraham not know which son he loves more? Yitzchak who follows in the footsteps of his father, spreading the Name of Hashem, or Yishmael the "wild man" (Bereishit 16:12), whom Sarah had already expelled from the house, with Hashem's approval?

R' Yisrael Salanter explains that Avraham certainly manifested a stronger love for Yitzchak than for Yishmael, yet he was afraid that perhaps on an unconscious level, he actually harbored a greater love for Yishmael (R' Yisrael Salanter preceded Freud in discovering the unconscious). R' Yisrael Salanter explained his idea using the example of a man who had a wicked son, and a student who was a Talmid Chacham studying Torah day and night. On the surface displays greater love for the student. If, however, he were to be awakened in the middle of the night and discover that his son's house was on fire, as was the house of his beloved student, he would race to save his son before trying to save his student. The love a man has for his offspring is not readily apparent. However, this love needs only a slight awakening to glow like a fire. Deep down the man feels greater love for his son even though he is wicked, than the external love he has for his student. Unlike the above example, Yitzchak and Yishmael were both sons of Avraham Avinu. Avraham feared that there was a love for Yishmael buried deep in his subconscious that may have been greater than his love for Yitzchak. Hashem, Who knows the deep secrets that are inside man, knew for sure that "whom you love" referred to Yitzchak. Avraham's love for Yitzchak was a true one and went well beneath the surface.

The A-lmighty knows the true inner desire of Moshe Rabenu. Moshe Rabenu was interested in the spiritual continuation of the Jewish nation. He was searching for a leader who would continue to teach the Torah he received at Sinai, who would lead them to the Land of Israel and insure that they act properly once there (fulfilling mitzvoth specifically associated with the Land as well as all other mitzvoth). Moshe would not have suggested his sons for the position if he did not truly believe them worthy. Moshe Rabenu, unlike other people, is not interested in nepotism. He is not the type of person who thinks his children can do no wrong, and finds faults that do not exist in others. Moshe Rabenu must have felt that his sons were his true spiritual heirs. Hashem, however, felt that despite the spiritual closeness the sons had to their father, Moshe's protיgי, Yehoshua was even closer. Had Moshe realized that Yehoshua was more fitting, Moshe certainly would have requested that he fill the role. On the surface Moshe appears to desire that his own sons become the leaders, underneath the surface, however he was looking for the appropriate leader and if this was Yehoshua, then it is he who should inherit Moshe's position. With the appointment of Yehoshua, Moshe's desire has now been fulfilled. Perhaps we can now explain that: "Take to yourself Yehoshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit" (Bamidbar 27:18), means "a man in whom your spirit is in him" (Rashi offers another interpretation, but as we know there are seventy faces to the Torah). Hashem is telling Moshe, that it may be true that Moshe's spirit is found in Gershom, Eliezer, Elazar, and Itamar, but the one who truly carries the flame is Yehoshua.

If Moshe's children were indeed worthy, what did Yehoshua have to offer that led to his appointment as the successor of Moshe Rabenu? Chazal tell us (Bamidbar Rabba 21:14) that Yehoshua used to set up the benches in the Beit Midrash. Yehoshua did not view such a task as being beneath his dignity, as "an elder whom it does not befit his honor" (Baba Metzia 30b). Yehoshua saw himself as the servant of Moshe: "his servant, Yehoshua bin Nun, a young man" (Shmot 33:11), and it was in this way he wished to assist his Rebbe. Yehoshua would have been greatly disturbed if someone entering Moshe's Beit Midrash would have had to waste his time dragging in a bench from the outside - precious time that could be spent in learning.

We have no doubt that Yehoshua was concerned with his own bittul Torah as well. When Moshe descended from atop Har Sinai, Yehoshua was there at the foot of the mountain waiting to greet him. Why the need to wait over there, could he not have welcomed him back at the camp? No! Moshe was arriving with the Tablets and many wonderful chiddushim, eager to teach the Torah to the nation. Moshe was about to deliver shiurim on Parshiot Mishpatim, Trumah, and all that he learned on top of the mountain. Yehoshua was so eager to learn that he was unable to wait until Moshe returned to the camp. Imagine how many chiddushim he would be able to hear during the time it takes to walk from Har Sinai to the camp of Israel. In addition, we know that it was not only on the fortieth day that Yehoshua waited at the foot of the mountain, but the entire forty days (see Rashi Shmot 24:13). Was he not aware that Moshe was planning to spend forty days on Har Sinai. Why did he not wait at the camp arriving at the foot of the mountain only on the fortieth day? He cannot! Perhaps Hashem will decide that Moshe can come down sooner, perhaps it will take Moshe only twenty days or even less to master that which an ordinary person would require forty days? Chazal in fact tell us that Moshe would study the Torah and forget it each and every day until it was given to him as a gift. If it was given as a gift, it means, that it was possible for Moshe to master the Torah in one day. It took Shlomo Hamelech only one night. Yehoshua could not risk losing even a single moment of hearing Torah from Moshe Rabenu, and thus he spent forty days waiting for Moshe to descend. Yehoshua was purely sincere in his actions, he was not even aware of the special treatment he received over there: "'a man ate abirim bread' (Tehillim 78:25) - this refers to Yehoshua for whom manna came down in a quantity equal to the amount that fell for all Israel" (Yoma 76a). This is how one becomes a leader of Israel. This is how Yehoshua merited to be part of the chain that continues to this day: "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders" (Avot 1:1).

Chazal tell us that our desire to study Torah must be as a fish in the water. A fish grows and lives in the water. When a single drop of rain falls, however, it opens its mouth wide in anticipation as if it had never tasted water. The Jewish people grow and live within the water of Torah. Yet, when a chiddush, a new insight and idea from the Torah is announced, they listen with eager anticipation as if they have never before heard words of Torah. (Bereishit Rabba 97:3). Yehoshua was destined to spend another forty years in the Beit Midrash of Moshe Rabenu, learning Torah from him - what an ocean of Torah was awaiting him! Despite this, Yehoshua was not willing to give up even a few minutes of an opportunity to learn from Moshe. Perhaps Moshe's sons had more of a flair for learning and spirituality. Perhaps their pilpullim were more profound. They did not, however, possess Yehoshua's thirst for Torah knowledge. Yehoshua spent every minute he could learning, presumably the time between sedarim as well as both days and nights of bein hazmanim.

The Torah commands us to act as Yehoshua did: "and these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart" (Devarim 6:6). Rashi explains: "they should not be in your eyes like an old edict, to which a person does not attach importance, but rather, like a new one towards which everybody runs, such as an order of the king which comes in writing". There is little interest in long-standing army regulations and orders. However, news hot off the press from Obama's meeting with Netanyahu arouses great interest. Everyone is eager to find out whether anything positive has been decided. This should be our attitude to the Torah - as the latest edict from the news which we want to swallow every word of.

We do not have Moshe in our midst today, nor Yehoshua - yet some sparks do remain. We must do our utmost to take from Moshe's fear of Hashem and from his humility. With this we can also be servants of Moshe, and fulfill Moshe's wish that his spirit will continue to be alive and active in the Jewish nation. By learning Torah we are also fulfilling Moshe's desire, and of course that of Hashem: that the Divine Presence reside among us. May we all attain the level where yirat Shamayim will be something easy, and thereby merit the building of the Beit Hamidkash speedily in our day.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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