Ki Seitzei - Love, Awe, Humility, Wisdom, and Birds
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Why did Dovid Hamelech write, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of G-d?"
(Tehillim 111:10) Why did he choose the "fear of G-d" more than " ws ,cvt"
- the love of G-d as the "beginning of wisdom?"
At the beginning of the second chapter of The Rambam's (Maimonidies) Laws
of The Fundamentals of the Torah, the Rambam discusses the Mitzvah of
Loving G-d and Fearing G-d.
(The accurate translation of "Yirah" as it is used in this context is
"awe", or "being in awe of" rather than "fear" or "being afraid of."
However, "Yiras G-d" is commonly translated as "Fear of G-d.")
The Rambam establishes that loving G-d is the precursor to fearing G-d.
First a person must recognized G-d's beneficence and goodness before he can
appreciate G-d's awesomeness. First a person must accept that G-d cares
about each human, creature, and the entire universe before he can
appreciate the awesomeness of G-d's ability to care about each human,
creature, and the entire universe. Once a person has attained the level of
Yirah - being in awe of G-d, he realizes that G-d is the "Omnipotent,
Eternal, Almighty" and that he is by contrast a insignificant momentary
pause on the continuum of destiny. In simpler terms, the human is humbled.
The human learns humility.
Ahavah - love, or loving G-d, involves awareness of G-d's goodness. It
assumes that the person accepts that all things happen under G-d's personal
supervision. It assumes the belief that G-d is good rather than indifferent
and that everything G-d does is good. It assumes that everything that G-d
does is done for our benefit.
Belief in G-d's goodness does not necessarily evoke humility. It should
evoke appreciation and the desire to give back to G-d in some way. It does
create a bond between G-d and ourselves that can be called "loving;"
however, it does not necessarily humble the person.
Love does not have to include humility. Two loving people can admire each
other greatly and appreciate each other for their individual talents and
accomplishments; yet, they remain emotionally and intellectually equal to
each other. Each one may excel in his or her area of expertise and be able
to do what they do better than anyone else; yet, it will not humble the
other person. In fact, each one may feel very proud of himself and grow to
be egotistical about his or her own abilities.
It is Yirah - being in awe - that teaches humility. Imagine a business that
sells ideas to other industries (otherwise known as consultants). The
company is a partnership between two very bright and creative "thinkers"
who appreciate and admire each other's talents; however, one of the two is
exceptionally bright and creative. He is absolutely brilliant in the
profundity of his analysis and the all-encompassing vision of his
solutions. Imagine that the "better of the two" is consistently flawless -
he never makes a mistake.
On the other hand, the other partner is no slouch. Within their chosen
industry he is also highly acclaimed and respected for his intelligence and
accomplishments; however, the other partner is recognized as above and
beyond mere mortals. He truly leaps tall buildings with a single bound. He
is reputed to have "written the book" for the industry and every time he
speaks or publishes he "rewrites the book that he already wrote!"
When the two partners sit down to solve a problem or sell an idea the
"great one" is solicitous, encouraging, and complimentary of the "lesser
one." He allows his partner to share ideas and solutions. He is never
impatient or sarcastic. He is never supercilious or patronizing. In fact,
his demeanor is best described as loving and respectful; however, it is
doubtful that he feels awe for his partner.
On the other hand, the "lesser" partner also loves his partner. He
appreciates his sensitivity and encouragement. He feels comfortable within
the relationship and empowered to speak his mind without fear of ridicule
or criticism. He is proud to be a partner and proud of the companies
success and accomplishments; however, when he considers himself relative to
his "extraordinary" partner he is acutely aware of his own limitations. He
is recognizes the vast gulf that separates competence, diligence, and hard
work from true brilliance and greatness. It would be fair to say that he is
"in awe" of his partner.
Being in awe of one's partner does not deny self-worth or accomplishment.
It has nothing to do with personal inability or failure. It is simply the
recognition that in the arena of one's chosen profession, no matter how
competent and successful he may be, there is another who is far, far,
better. By contrast we should be humbled, never lessened.
Yirah (awe) requires contrast. If the "lesser" partner was great in sales
but could not get to first-base when it came to research and development,
there could still be love and admiration for his partner, but he could not
be in awe. To be in awe of a particular success presumes that one can
appreciate what it takes to succeed.
As a self-proclaimed mathematically challenged adult I know that computers
compute at "awesome" speed; however, I do not really know what that means.
I certainly do not appreciate their speed the way a brilliant mathematician
who spends his life computing the vast variables of industry and technology
would appreciate them.
Each of us knows what it takes to care for something. It might be caring
for self, another, a pet, or a business or whatever big or small thing we
are responsible for. Caring takes time, strength, and many other resources.
For many, caring at whatever level is exhausting; the point being, we all
have an idea of what it means to truly care and be responsible. That is the
contrast we must have if we are to be in awe of G-d the way the Rambam
explained Yirah. By knowing what it takes to be responsible in the limited
spheres of our own lives we are able to extrapolate to the impossibility of
caring for an entire universe. That is why we can feel "in awe" of G-d. On
the other hand, a young child who never experienced having to care or be
responsible has no means of appreciating what it could mean to care for the
entire universe. Such a child could never be in awe of G-d.
Love creates the relationship and awe humbles; however, in order to succeed
humility is not enough. Humility must also bring about wisdom.
Navigating a space ship is not like driving a car - or is it? To know the
difference I must first have some understanding of the complexities of
piloting a space ship; otherwise I would never know the necessity of hiring
a pilot or navigator. If I were determined to travel through space I would
have to accept the limits of my own competence (or incompetence) and find
the person that could compute the variables of space travel, plot the
course, and take us wherever. Therefore, accomplishment and success demands
more than humility; it also demands the wisdom to accept the limits of my
strengths and weaknesses and find those capable of doing what I need done
but which I cannot do for myself.
Wisdom is the byproduct of humility and humility is the consequence of
Yirah (awe). "Who is a wise man? The one who is able to learn from every
person". A wise man knows that all people are limited and no one person has
the exclusive on all wisdom; therefore, he accepts his own limitations and
seeks solutions from others. My brother Rav Mordecai Shlit'a explained to
me that a significant reason why we rule like Bais Hillel over Bais Shamai
is because Bais Hillel had a larger number of students than Bais Shamai.
Within the framework of "majority rules" Bais Hillel was of the opinion
that there was wisdom and truth to be gleaned when opening the discussion
to all the students. Sometimes, the least advanced student can see
something that the most advanced scholar will miss. Therefore, Bais Hillel
would hold Halachik deliberations in the open forum of the Bais Medresh
(study hall) where the most advanced and the novice could join in the
discussion. Bais Shamai on the other hand invited only the best and most
advanced students to participate in the Halachik discussions and deliberations.
The wisest and most advanced scholar realizes that he too is limited;
therefore, it is possible to glean truth and wisdom from anyone and
everyone. That is called humility and that is called wisdom.
There are two Mitzvos where the Torah states the reward of longevity.
Honoring parents and Sending away the Mother Bird (22:7) Rav S.R.Hirsch has
a novel approach that connects the two Mitzvos. He explained that both
Mitzvos focus on showing deference to the parental figure. Honoring Parents
inculcates the child with an understanding that he or she is not "equal" to
the parents. Regardless of how successful or educated the child might be
and how uneducated and unsuccessful the parents might be, the child must
show respect to the parents. At the very least it is a symbolic statement
that we are all the products of past accomplishments and that we owe our
wisdom to the loyal transmission of Torah.
Sending away the Mother Bird expresses "respect for the dignity of
motherhood." It forces us to realize that we too owe who and what we are to
a preceding generation. No matter how modern and advanced we think we are
we did not get here by ourselves. If not for the commitment of our parents
and the generations that preceded them we would not exist. Both Mitzvos
teach us humility and both Mitzvos prepare us to accept wisdom.
Living a long life is a divine gift. It is granted to those who are wise
enough to be humbled by the passage of time. It is granted to those who are
wise enough to be humbled by the gifts granted by parents and grandparents.
Our purpose in creation is to impart humility and wisdom to the world.
Those who embrace humility and accept that they are but a "momentary pause
on the continuum of destiny" deserve to live longer because they have
proven themselves to be the wisest of all.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
North Hollywood, CA and Assistant Principal, YULA.