by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And now, Israel, what does HaShem your G-d ask from you, but that you fear
HaShem your G-d...?" [10:12]
The Ba'al Shem Tov, the father of modern Chassidus, offers a very
interesting - and very Chassidic - twist on this verse.
When a father instructs his son not to run around barefoot, he does so to
prevent injury - he doesn't want his child stepping on anything harmful.
The reason the son obeys, however, depends on his age and development. A
young child, who doesn't yet understand that the world can be a dangerous
place, will wear shoes only in order to avoid punishment. He has no idea
that going barefoot is _inherently_ risky and therefore foolish - his
father makes it so by threatening dire consequences.
An older child already understands that various things which appear safe
and harmless might be very threatening in actuality. Furthermore, he
recognizes that his father knows the dangers better than he. Thus when a
father tells a more mature child to wear shoes, the latter obeys not in
order to avoid punishment, but due to his appreciation of his father's
advice. There is no difference between the fear of the father and that of
the son - both are worried that the son may injure his feet.
G-d gave us 613 Commandments, explains the Ba'al Shem Tov, in order to
protect us from over-involvement in material things, from haughtiness, from
those things which would cause us to distance ourselves from Him. The
Mitzvos form a system designed to straighten us and purify us of worldly
influences, enabling us to become G-dly.
HaShem does not want us to observe the Commandments because we are afraid
of Divine Retribution (fear of punishment). That is the attitude of a small
child. Rather, says the Ba'al Shem Tov, G-d wants us to share His concern
for our own spiritual growth and protection (fear of transgression). That
is an "adult" attitude towards the Commandments.
Thus the twist on the verse, which in Hebrew reads "Ki im l'yirah es HaShem
Elokecha" - "but that you fear HaShem your G-d." "Es" is an indefinite
article with no English translation, but it can sometimes mean "with," as
in "but that you fear with, or like, HaShem your G-d." His fear - His
concern for our spiritual development - should be our fear as well.
Text Copyright © 1997 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis,
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.