Eikev: Fear of G-d

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Effort vs. result. The relative value of these two concepts is a fundamental dispute between our western worldview and Jewish teachings. The secular world is, as it must be, bottom-line oriented. From a Jewish perspective, it is effort, not result, that ultimately counts. G-d blessed us all with different and varying degrees of talent; thus, it would be unfair to expect similar results from all. Rather, it is the effort we expend on moral improvement, understanding a Torah text, or performing mitzvoth that is crucial. Of course, one must try to expend efforts where one will be most successful. Thus, it is crucial to make an honest self-appraisal of our talents and expend our efforts in those areas. 


"And now, Israel, what does G-d want of you? Only that you remain in awe of G-d your Lord, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve G-d with all your heart and all your soul" (10:12). While for Moshe, fear of G-d, love of G-d, and observing the commandments may have been easy, surely these are lifelong challenges even for those who are totally committed to these goals. The Netziv—towering rabbinic leader of 19th century Lithuanian Jewry (and beyond)—explains that, in fact, Moshe was addressing three different groups of people, exhorting each to focus on one of the above goals.

It is the leaders—political and religious—of the Jewish people who must have an extra dose of fear of the Almighty. All too often, people in positions of power—and religious leaders are no different—think they are somehow above the norms applicable to their followers. The obligation of leaders to make painful decisions—decisions that will, by definition, hurt some people—highlights this need for pure motives. Hurting somebody to further a personal agenda is inexcusable. Thus, Maimonides writes that those leaders who instil fear in others not for the sake of heaven lose their share in the World to Come (Teshuva 3:6). It is not by chance that the Torah commands that a king must have a Sefer Torah with him at all times. Even with the best motives, leaders are often powerless to effect positive change; G-d, then, surely judges them on effort, not result. Leaders making difficult decisions must ask themselves not what people want, but rather, what G-d demands. Blessed is the generation where these coincide. 



The second demand of Moshe, to love G-d, is addressed primarily to the teachers of Torah. Teachers who lack passion and love for their subject cannot effectively inspire students. In order to love a person, one must get to know them (that's why true love grows throughout a good marriage), and loving G-d is no different. By studying G-d—i.e., His Torah—we can get to know and love Him. Learning and teaching Torah—and those who learn must teach—can only be meaningful if combined with love of G-d. 



Most of us, however, are neither leaders nor even primarily teachers of the Jewish people. Rather, we are the crucial backbone of the community, those who must practice Torah in the "real" world; a world that is often at odds with our values. It is to this general populace that the third exhortation, to serve G-d, is crucial. It is easy to serve G-d in the Beit Midrash. The true mark of religiosity, however, is expressed by imbuing our day-to-day life with the mitzvoth and values of Torah. At 120, before G-d queries us regarding our devotion to Torah learning, he asks us if our monetary dealings were conducted faithfully. The Kiddush Hashem created by an honest businessmen, a dedicated health care worker, or a caring bureaucrat is the way we "go in all His ways…and serve G-d with all your heart and all your soul." May we merit to have the leaders who fear G-d, the teachers who love G-d, and the community that serves G-d.