Now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you? Only to fear
Hashem your G-d…
Rashi: Chazal derived from this that all is dictated by Heaven, other than
the fear of Heaven.
Maharal: There is a wondrous teaching in this statement. We generally see
HKBH as able to do anything at all, since nothing lies outside of His power.
Nonetheless, there is a class of actions (really non-actions, since they
cannot happen!) that we maintain even Hashem cannot perform, as stated by
Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. 2 These are logical impossibilities.
For instance, contradicting opposites cannot both be true within the same
object, and Hashem cannot bring them about. Something cannot exist and not
exist at the same time. We do not limit Hashem or His greatness by saying
that He cannot make such an object. No reasonable person disputes this.
A less obvious, but equally impossible, activity is the creation of a person
as a tzadik who fears Heaven. There are people who speak about Hashem
creating such people, not realizing that they have described a contradiction
in terms, a logical impossibility. If one is created to fear Hashem, then he
does not do so, because fear of Heaven, once compelled, is not fear of
Heaven at all! Yir’as Shomayim has to originate within the person to be
considered such. It has to be an outgrowth of a person’s reaction to his
grasp of the existence of Hashem and Who He is.
We readily understand that a person who is compelled to perform some
forbidden act cannot be called a sinner, because he had not choice but to
perform. Part of the sin is in the exercise of free-will, in the choosing to
transgress, rather than obey. Yir’as Shomayim is the mirror image of this.
It is only authentic when a person chooses to act in accordance with the
Will of his Creator. If he is created to act perfectly righteously, he
exercises no choice, and evidences no yir’as Shomayim.
Chazal speak of only two things that are not dictated by Heaven: yir’as
Shomayim, 3 and illness brought on by cold or heat. 4
Why these two?
Yir’ah is reflexive. It is not imposed from without, but is a reaction
within a person brought about by the person himself. He senses the greatness
of Hashem. This sensation within him causes him to draw back from the Being
he fears. (Love is the polar opposite. It is a sensation that causes the
person to draw closer to it object, and to cling to it. Thus we find Chazal
speaking of yir’as Shomayim, but never of ahavas Shomayim. The word
“shomayim” connotes a region that cannot be reached, an unbridgeable chasm
between a person and Hashem. Yir’ah causes him to see himself as infinitely
separate from G-d. Ahavah, love, does the opposite. It knows its object;
that Being has a Name. Thus, we speak of Ahavas Hashem.)
The greater the fear, the greater the sense of distance. Conversely, the
closer the distance, the less room for fear. This alone would prove that
yir’ah cannot be created or programmed. If it were, the very relationship of
Hashem acting upon him to cause it establishes connection and relationship –
and where there is connection, there cannot be a sense of an absolute gulf
Illness brought on by cold and heat stands in much the same position,
applying the principle we’ve developed above to a different area. Heat and
cold do not directly harm a person. Rather, people make decisions about how
to deal with them, and those decisions often result in illness. Stay out in
the cold long enough without cover, and you might very well get sick. Keep
active in extreme hear without hydrating, and there will be consequences.
Too much strong sun will result in sunstroke. People make the choices about
dealing with extremes in the weather. When those choices are poorly
considered, they should not blame the weatherman. Or the Divine Weatherman.
In that sense, Hashem doesn’t cause the illness as He might in other
circumstances; the illness is not dictated directly by Heaven.
Ultimately, everything flows from Hashem’s Will, because that Will empowers
and sustains everything in the universe. Ein Od Milvado. This core
understanding should not prevent us, however, from understanding the role of
human choice, and the responsibility that comes with it. We should not blame
G-d for catching a cold after walking in a cold downpour without a coat. Nor
can we blame him for not having created us as tzadikim. That is our job.
1. Based on Gur Aryeh, Devarim 10:12; Derech Chaim 1:3
3. Berachos 33B
4. Kesubos 30A
“The Secrets of Change”
Jon Erlbaum -
Are We A Role Model for the World?
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky - 5764
Ideas for Inspiration
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5760
Thoughts About Prayer Before Yom Kippur
Rabbi Yissocher Frand - 5773
A Yom Kippur to Remember
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5760
Sair HaMishtaleach: The Scapegoat
Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene - 5767
Yom Kippur - Getting In Touch With Ourselves
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5774
Yom Kippur and the Pathways to Joy
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5756
The Taste of Repentance
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5758
Your Personal Inner Sanctum
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5764
Did You Hear?
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5763
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5768
'Sin... Don't Laugh!'
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5755
The Right Fit
Rabbi Raymond Beyda - 5764
The Key to Clemency
Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden - 5761
Commandment of Confession
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5757