This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
רְאֵה ~ Re’eih
“Ahavah & Yirah; Aw & Awe”
At this phase of his national address, Moshe Rabbeinu, once again, denounces the evils of Avodah Zarah, idolatry or foreign worship, but with new presentation. Here, he warns the B’nei Yisrael about a time when either a supposed prophet or a dreamer would get up, perform some “wonders,” and attempt to convince them to serve foreign deities [13:2-4]. Here, Moshe says that in such a circumstance, “Lo Sishma…Ki Menaseh Hashem Elokeichem Es’chem LaDa’as HaYishchem Ohavim Es Hashem Elokeichem B’Chal Levavchem U’V’Chal Nafshechem”-“Do not listen…for Hashem your G-d is testing you to know if there is of you lovers of Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul” [Ibid.].
Now, at first glance, it seems like it should be a no-brainer that they shouldn’t listen. If, thus far, the B’nei Yisrael have been commanded numerous times not to serve Avodah Zarah, then the same prohibition should hold true in all circumstances, even if a supposed prophet or dreamer came along and said otherwise. Right, he might’ve performed some sign or wonder, but should that really change anything? Do we even need, at this point, a special warning, even in such a circumstance, not to do Avodah Zarah? It really doesn’t seem so tricky. If the “prophet” says, “Hey, let’s serve Avodah Zarah—foreign gods that your forefathers didn’t know,” that should already be enough of a red flag for us, shouldn’t it? So, why should this kind of warning even be necessary to spell out?
Furthermore, as was mentioned, Moshe specifies, in his warning, that the B’nei Yisrael should not listen to this prophet, “for Hashem your G-d is testing you to know if there is of you lovers of Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul.” In other words, whether or not the B’nei Yisrael will listen to the prophet will be the litmus test to prove whether or not the B’nei Yisrael truly love Hashem with all their heart. If they completely love Hashem, they will not listen to the “prophet” to do Avodah Zarah.
While, this idea sounds inspiring at the outset, one might wonder: Does this test accurately measure what Moshe says it’s supposed to measure? Does their refusal to listen to this prophet and do Avodah Zarah prove that the B’nei Yisrael love Hashem with all their heart and soul? Maybe, it just proves that they are capable of listening to simple instructions, especially if the Torah is warning them right now that this might happen! Scientifically speaking, to say that this “test” will prove how much they love Hashem, would seem to be considered inaccurate, as it lacks construct validity.
Moreover, who says that it is specifically the B’nei Yisrael’s love for Hashem that is being measured? Perhaps it’s not their Ahavas Hashem, but their Yiras Hashem, their fear or reverence for Hashem, that is being measured. In other words, it would seem to make just as much sense to say that if the B’nei Yisrael would have enough Yiras Hashem, an understanding of the consequences of their actions on their spiritual standing, then that too can help them withhold from serving Avodah Zarah.
In fact, the very first scenario in which the Torah text itself tells us that Hashem “tested” someone, the Torah says specifically that Hashem was measuring Yiras Hashem. Back in Parshas Vayeira, Hashem tested Avraham Avinu in the story of Akeidas Yitzchak (the Binding of Yitzchak) [Bereishis 22:1] (“…V’HaElokim Nisah Es Avraham…”-“…and G-d tested Avraham…”). Hashem explicitly concludes that Avraham, by passing the test, had proven to be a Yirei Elokim, one who reveres G-d [22:18]. So again, perhaps, here as well, it is just as reasonable to suggest that the “test” of the prophet and dreamer is really measuring the Yirah of the B’nei Yisrael, not necessarily their Ahavah. So, why then does the Moshe assume here that Hashem is specifically testing the Ahavah of the B’nei Yisrael for Hashem?
In truth though, one can really ask the reverse question regarding Hashem’s test for Avraham. After Avraham extended the knife to slaughter his son Yitzchak and offer him as an offering according to the Will of G-d, as was just mentioned, Hashem concluded that Avraham was truly a Yirei Elokim, one who undoubtedly fears G-d. The Akeidah was the apparent litmus test to measure Avraham’s Yiras Hashem. But, in Avraham’s case, can’t we say that the Akeidah really measured his Ahavas Hashem, how much he loved Hashem? Who says that the Akeidah was measuring Avraham’s Yirah? Okay, G-d Himself says it, but why should that be the case? We can just as easily that since Avraham clearly loved Hashem so much to the point that maybe the love for Hashem overrode even the love Avraham had for his own son, that he was willing to offer his son to Hashem! So, why then does Hashem say that His test had proven Avraham specifically to be a Yirei Elokim, one who reveres G-d, and not an Oheiv Hashem, one who truly loves Hashem?
What makes matters more difficult for our purposes is that the Ramban points out that our performance of Mitzvos Aseih, positive commandments from G-d, is rooted inherently in Ahavas Hashem (as we actively perform because we love), while our adherence of Mitzvos Lo Sa’aseih, negative commandments—that which we’re forbidden to do, are rooted in Yiras Hashem (as we withhold from acting because we fear). Accordingly, it would seem reasonable that when we refuse to listen to the prophet and violate a negative commandment, we are really tapping into our Yiras Hashem, while Avraham, who did not withhold to perform G-d’s active commandment, was actually tapping into Ahavas Hashem. Yet, as we’ve already established, these two tests are apparently measuring the opposite factors!
It seems that really, there’s much more to each of these two “tests.” The argument we’ve made is that perhaps enough of either Yirah or Ahavah in either of the situations we’ve presented could’ve led to the desired consequence that we obey Hashem’s Will. With enough Yiras Hashem, we can stand up to the prophet or dreamer—it shouldn’t have to only be Ahavah. Conversely, with enough Ahavah, Avraham could’ve performed the Akeidah—it didn’t have to only be Yirah. Apparently though, neither of these tests was as simple as having enough of either one factor, Ahavah or Yirah. Apparently, sometimes, it’s not enough to have only one of these driving forces governing our actions. Sometimes, specific situations really call for specific kinds of indispensable measures, all of which, in there appropriate times, are incredibly crucial.
Earlier, we argued that the test of the prophet and dreamer trying to convince us to do Avodah Zarah really didn’t seem like much of a test at all, let alone, a measure of our level of Ahavas Hashem. Avodah Zarah is one of the most basic prohibitions, it’s completely antithetical to monotheism, and the Torah already warned us about it several times. Accordingly, it should not take such incredible Ahavas Hashem to withhold from violating the commandment. Even if a “prophet” comes along and says otherwise, it should be obvious that it’s wrong to listen. It seems so simple.
However, maybe it’s really not that simple. If one thinks about it, it is most likely that the prophet or dreamer will not be as transparent as Moshe presents them to be in his simplified scenario. Surely, if the person really seems to be a convincing prophet, then it’ll be difficult to just shrug him off and ignore him. He probably won’t just simply say, “Hey, let’s do Avodah Zarah.” That might be a giveaway, and indeed, it would not be much of test. These “prophets” and “dreamers” will probably be shrewder than that. We’re not talking about simple missionaries. We’re talking about presumed prophets, people claiming to have Divine insight, people who back up their words with intellectual arguments, wonders and signs, people who will likely awe-inspire us—people who will evoke Yirah from us. In such a situation, no matter how convincing the suggestions are and no matter how logical their arguments become, at that point, our love for Hashem must pierce through so that even if we can suddenly relate to potential wisdom associated with certain sacrilegious ideals on an intellectual level, and even if we don’t always understand the deeper truth behind the Torah’s ideals, we will not turn our backs on Hashem. At that point, Hashem is challenging us to combat our natural Yirah for these individuals with the only force that can help us in that case, our Ahavah for Him. When Hashem has our undivided Ahavah, we can overcome the test of foreign Yirah. Indeed, Hashem wants us to live life and serve Him with the natural Yirah, but it has to be channeled, modified, and perfected by unconditional love for Him.
On the other hand, when it came to Akeidas Yitzchak, Avraham Avinu was in a situation where, naturally, his Ahavah for his son might’ve won out, and he would’ve dismissed Ratzon Hashem (the Will of G-d). Surely, there is no love greater than that which a parent has for his child, and in fact, the first time the expression of love is ever used in the Torah is when G-d describes Avraham’s love for Yitzchak [Bereishis 22:2]. Moreover, Avraham, according to tradition, was the pillar of lovingkindness. The challenge of the Akeidah, in fact, was not one of love, but of awe for G-d, and Avraham had to overcome his love by developing Yirah. Avraham was aware of the reality in front of him, as Hashem was specific enough that Avraham knew and was awed by the command that he offer up his son as a sacrifice. This commandment is not one that inspires love for G-d, and in fact, whenever G-d exacts judgment against us and takes something or someone we love away from us, it usually does not stir up further love for Him. But, that does not mean that we can withdraw from our service to G-d. In those situations, we have to be awed and display reverence, Yirah for Hashem, and combat our natural Ahavah, the emotional instincts that may typically govern our actions. Certainly, Hashem wants us to live life and serve Him with the natural Ahavah, but it as well, has to be channeled, modified, and perfected by our awe and acceptance of His judgment.
In the end, it’s clear that sometimes, Hashem calls upon us to display our love for Him, while at other times, we must display awe for Him. Both Ahavah and Yirah are important, but neither can stand alone in every single situation. Hashem is both our Father and King, so we’re challenged really at all moments to maintain that balance, to know when the test is one of love or one of awe and act appropriately in each situation.
May we all be Zocheh to display both unconditional Ahavah and humble Yirah for Hashem, maintain the balance between these forces in our relationship with Him, and He should shower us with the perfect balance of both the love as our Father and the royalty as our King in the days of the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Elul!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂