Thursday, September 20, 2007

Messilas Yesharim (Thurs., Sept. 20th)


There are two subdivisions of this sort of fear: the first is in regard to the present moment and the future, and the second is in regard to the past. In regard to the present it implies that you should fear and worry about what you are doing or are about to, lest there be or come to be something in it that is not fitting for G-d's honor, as we have explained above. In the regard to the past, you should constantly think about what you have already done, and fear and worry that some transgression might have unknowingly come your way. This was the case with Baba ben Buttah who used to offer a suspected-guilt-offering every day (K'ritut 25a), and with Job, who arose early in the morning after his sons' parties, and "offered burnt offerings according to the number of them, for Job said, 'It may be that my sons have sinned'..." (Job 1:5). Our sages pointed out (Horayot 12a) that in regard to the anointing oil with which Moses anointed Aaron as High Priest it is said, "it shall not anoint human flesh" (Exodus 30:32). Yet it was explicitly commanded that Aaron be anointed with it! Moses and Aaron were afraid they had misappropriated its use in some way, and had gone against a commandment. Moses was worried and said, "Maybe I have misappropriated the anointing oil!" But a voice was heard to say, "'As the good oil that is upon the head descends upon the beard, the beard of Aaron... as the dew of Hermon' (Psalms 133:2–3) -- just as the dew of Hermon is not misappropriated, the anointing oil on Aaron's beard is not misappropriated." But Aaron was still worried. Maybe Moses had not misappropriated, but he had, he wondered? But a voice was heard to say, "'How good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together in unity'" (Psalms 133:1) -- just as Moses had not misappropriated, you have not misappropriated', it explained."

Here you see the ways of the pious. They would even worry about some small measure of impurity creeping (G-d forbid) into the mitzvot they have done. After Abraham finished coming to the rescue of his nephew who had been abducted, he was worried and wondered if perhaps all of his actions had not been completely meritorious. Our sages made reference to this in their explanation of the verse, "Do not be afraid, Abraham" (Genesis 15:1), when they said in the name of Rabbi Levi, "Because Abraham was afraid that somehow, between all of the soldiers that he had killed, there might have been a righteous or G-d-fearing man, he was told, 'Do not be afraid, Abraham (-- there was not)'" (Bereshit Rabbah 44:4). It is said in Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu (chapter 25), "'Do not be afraid', as in, 'Do not be afraid, Abraham' is only said to one who is truly G-d-fearing." This is the kind of fear about which it is said "The Holy One blessed be He only has His treasure-chest of G-d-fearers" (Berachot 33b). Only Moses found it easy to obtain this sort of fear, thanks to his great clinging to G-d, while others were certainly greatly deterred by their corporeality. However, every pious person should try to attain to this as much as possible, as it is said, "His holy ones will fear G-d" (Psalms 34:10).


The only way to acquire this sort of fear is to contemplate two truisms: that G-d's Presence is found everywhere, and that He involves Himself in everything, great and small. Nothing is hidden from Him, either because of its vastness or its insignificance. Whether a thing is great or small, scant or imposing, He constantly sees and understands it. This is what the Torah refers to when it says, "The whole world is full of His Glory" (Isaiah 6:3); "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jeremiah 23:24); "Who is like G-d our G-d, who dwells on high-- who lowers Himself to look upon the heavens and the earth?" (Psalms 113:5-6); and, "Though G-d is high up, He nonetheless notices the lowly..."(Psalms 138:6).

When it will become clear to you that wherever you are, you are standing before the Divine Presence, you will arrive at the fear and dread of stumbling in actions that would not be fitting before G-d's profound Glory. This is what is indicated by the teaching, "Know what is above you-- a seeing eye, a hearing ear-- and that all of your actions are recorded in a book" (Pirke Avot 2:1). Since the Holy One (blessed be He) involves Himself in everything, and He sees and hears everything, you can be sure of the fact that all actions make an impression and are recorded in a book for merit or blame.

But this only touches you personally if you constantly reflect upon and observe it. This sort of thing is beyond our ordinary perceptions, and the mind can only grasp it after much meditation and contemplation. And even after it will have made an impression, that impression will be easily lost if you do not constantly work at it. Just as a lot of contemplation is the only way to attain constant fear of Heaven, diversion of attention (either purposeful, or because of external interference) or lack of concentration is the way to lose it. And all diversion of attention is a taking away from the state of constant fear of Heaven. This is why the Holy One (blessed be He) commanded all kings of Israel to have the Torah "with him and to read it all the days of his life so that he might learn to fear G-d his G-d" (Deuteronomy 17:19) This comes to teach that fear of Heaven can only be learned with constant study. A careful analysis of the verse further indicates that it reads, "so that he might learn to fear G-d his G-d" rather than, "so that he might fear G-d his G-d." That is so because the fear of heaven does not come naturally.

In fact, it is very unnatural to us, because of the limited, this-worldly nature of our senses. It only comes to us with study. And the only kind of study that brings it to us is constant diligence in Torah and its path, which involves reflecting and meditating upon this at all times-- when you are relaxing, travelling, lying down, and awakening. The veracity of this-- that the Divine Presence is ever-present, and that we stand before G-d each and every moment-- must be set in your mind. Only then can you truly fear and revere G-d. King David would pray for this and say, "Teach me Your ways, G-d, so that I may walk in Your truth; unite my heart so that I might fear Your Name" (Psalms 86:11).


© 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman