Who is Your Favorite Artist?
By Rabbi Label Lam
And now Israel what does HASHEM your G-d ask of you? Only to fear HASHEM,
your G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve HASHEM, your
G-d, with all your heart and all your soul. (Devarim 10:12)
Based upon this verse our sages understood the following important principle
of life: “Everything is from heaven except for the fear of heaven”. What
does that mean? The Sefas Emes explains that HASHEM’s interaction with the
world is unlike that of a regular king of flesh and blood. An earthly
monarch has as part of his egoistic job description to impose fear upon his
subjects while demanding through taxation that they pay the price tag of his
In sharp contradistinction, HASHEM, the King of Kings generously showers
endless varieties of continuous goodness upon His world. His subjects are
the beneficiaries of boundless blessings more hidden than revealed. What is
expected in return? What is our job? It is our only real task to develop, on
our own, something called “Yira”, a true recognition. How is this
accomplished? How does one stir a stilled heart to awaken to the
authenticity of this overwhelming experience?
The Rambam asks, “Which is the way love Him and to fear Him?” He answers
rather poetically, “At the moment when a man contemplates His deeds and His
awesome and grandiose creations and he sees within them His inestimable
wisdom which is without limit, immediately he loves and praises and
intoxicated and desires with a great and overwhelming desire to know the
greatness of HASHEM. (Hilchos Yesode’ HaTorah 2:2)
These days with the encyclopedic explosion of scientific knowledge about the
universe one might expect that there would be more and more “Ahava”-love and
“Yira” –fear of HASHEM than ever before.
However, Vaclav Havel- poet and president the Czech Republic, observed, “We
may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did and yet
it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we
do, something that escapes us.”
Since life is an open book test and the entire cosmos is on display and
equally available to all, then how come some people “get it”- a jolt of
“Yiras HASHEM” and others “walk on by” blithely unaware remaining eminently
unimpressed? That’s the $64,000 question!
Years back I went with a friend on Shabbos to visit Rabbi Mordechai Schwab
ztl. He invited us to sit and chat. It was an awesome treat. His eyes kept
darting up to the heavens, resetting his orientation. At one moment he
stared lovingly at a dumb-cane plant in the corner of the room as if he was
noticing its large ornate leaves for the first time. Chuckling quietly to
himself, he asked rhetorically in the most innocent and child-like way, “Who
painted this?” It was stunning!
When Chana was finally granted a child she too declared, “There is no (tzur)
rock like our G-d!” The Talmud plays on the word “Tzur”- rock and says there
is no “tzair”- artist like our G-d!
Gazing at a sunset or a cloud filled sky, a child’s face, a finger, a fly or
anything, my wife and I have a running joke. “I ask, “Who’s your favorite
artist?” She says, “HASHEM! I say, “Mine too! I guess that’s why we got
married to each other!” The Rambam spells it out, “At the moment when a
person contemplates His deeds…” The deeds are already perceived and
understood as “His”. Scientific inquiry alone is inadequate. An important
question must be asked and answered first! The seriousness of this question
cannot be overstated! It’s no joke! However you phrase it: “Who painted
this?” “Who is your favorite artist?”
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.