Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It’s So Easy

By Rabbi Joshua (easily known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

Moshe, as part of his farewell address to the nation, says, “And now, Yisroel, what does the Lord, your God, ask of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to go in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and his statutes, which He commands you today for your benefit” (Devarim 10:12-13). The famed Rav Gavriel Ze’ev (Velvel) Margolois, author of Toras Gavriel, points out that while, at first, one request, fear of God, is made of the people, it is followed by a long list of other items, and this tends to compromise the description of the initial request as being just one, easily attained item. The idea here, however, he explains, is that with fear of God as a basis, the other items follow naturally. An analogy is the chapter in Tehillim in which King David at first says that all he asks of God is to dwell in His house all the days of his life, but then proceeds to list other things that he desires. The idea here, too, is that through dwelling in the house of the Lord, the other things will come as a natural result.

A more basic question concerning our verses is raised by the rabbis in the Talmud (Berachos 33b). Is fear of God, asks the Talmud, just a small, easy thing, as the verse implies? The Talmud answers that yes, for Moshe Rabbeinu, it was a small thing. This answer is problematic, because Moshe was speaking to the entire Jewish nation, and, for them, fear of God was difficult! Rav Aharon Kotler, in his Mishnas Rav Aharon, addresses this question, and explains that there are two levels of fear of God: fear of punishment, and fear of the awesomeness of God. When someone is immersed in Torah, the second level of fear of God comes as a natural consequence, and, thus for Moshe, the supreme master of Torah, this level of fear was a small matter, easily achieved, coming, as it did, from his involvement in Torah. In order for this process to begin, however, in order for someone to be attached to Torah, there must be an initial fear of God on the level of fear of punishment. This level is, indeed, relatively easy for anyone to achieve. This is because it is something that is really necessary for human existence. Rav Kook, in fact, says that the need for an attachment to God is as necessary to life as is oxygen. The Alter of Kelm, as cited by Rav Aharon Kotler, says that the more necessary something is for human survival, the more accessible it is. Therefore, it is appropriate to say that fear of God, on the level of fear of punishment, is a small thing. The second level fear Of God’s awesomeness comes as a natural consequence once the process of immersion in Torah is realized.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in his Ta’am Va'Da’as, makes a further point. He cites Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, who says that Moshe understood that the attainment of fear of God requires a great deal of effort. However, being the most humble of all men, he felt that the Jewish people were on a higher level than he was, and would be able to reach a fear of God with relative ease. That is why he described it as being a small request of God from them.

As a final point, we may mention the comment of Rav Yosef Albo, in his sefer HaIkkarim, on our verses. He says that were one to attempt to reach fear of God on their own, it would be very difficult to attain. The Torah, however, through its system of observances, leads one to fear of God. In this sense, the attainment of the fear of God, through the observance of the mitzvos of the Torah, is a relatively small matter, when compared to the difficulty that would be involved in reaching that level through one’s own efforts.