|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, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, 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.
עֵקֶב ● Eikev
● What does Moshe mean when he warns that if one forgets Hashem, then he will forget Hashem? What exactly is G-d’s “simple request” of man? ●
“Yiras Hashem – The Foundation”
As we’ve discussed earlier, this segment of Moshe Rabbeinu’s discourse is devoted to the consequences for the national observance of Hashem’s Torah and those for the Torah’s neglect. Here, Moshe warns Am Yisrael not forget that Hashem is the reason they see any success in life and that they should not to think for a second that “Kochi V’Otzem Yadi Asah Li Es HaChayil HaZeh”-“My strength and the might of my hand made for me this wealth.”1
TODAY’S SITE: Moshe’s Warning – If You Forget Hashem…
This caution against forgetting Hashem is a vital theme in this Sidrah as is evidenced by the several instances in the Sidrah when Moshe issues such a warning. But, even within Moshe’s emphasis on this crucial warning, when looking at the text of the speech itself, there seems to be some awkward repetition in Moshe’s words. He opens up, “Hishameir Lecha Pen Tishkach Es Hashem Elokecha L’vilti Sh’mor Mitzvosav…”-“Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem your G-d by not observing His commandments…”2
Then, Moshe depicts the progression of what will be if one forgets G-d, Chas V’Shalom; one will become satiated and build a nice house3, become rich and then haughty.4 Obviously, with the exception of that last item, i.e. becoming haughty, most of these occurrences, in and of themselves, are not negative. Having a house and wealth can be a wonderful thing. But, if they lead to haughtiness, the final result that Moshe Rabbeinu fears is, “V’Shachachta Es Hashem Elokecha HaMotzi’acha MeiEretz Mitzrayim…”-“And you will forget Hashem your G-d Who brought you forth from the land of Egypt…”5
Now, as serious as this mistake of forgetting G-d apparently is, Moshe’s presentation is odd if we piece together his entire warning from its beginning to its conclusion. If you didn’t already notice, Moshe began by warning the B’nei Yisrael not to forget G-d, proceeded to describe a progression of events which culminate into the final result of “And you will forget Hashem your G-d…”5
That is obviously a strange warning, for if one forgets G-d, obviously he has forgotten G-d. Moreover, if the real problem is just the forgetting of G-d, then the sequence of events in the middle, i.e. building a house, becoming rich, etc., becomes inconsequential. Indeed, if they forget G-d, then the result is that they forget G-d. What exactly then is Moshe trying to communicate beyond that in his warning? Is forgetting G-d a bad idea that will lead to problems or is it the crime itself? Perhaps it’s easily both of these things, but that doesn’t change the peculiar flow of Moshe’s words. What is Moshe’s message about the “forgetting” of Hashem?
NEXT STOP: What G-d Asks of Us
Later in the Sidrah, Moshe Rabbeinu would summarize the national mission of the B’nei Yisrael as Ovdei Hashem, in what almost sounds like a plea; “V’Atah Yisrael Mah Hashem Sho’eil Mei’Imach? Ki Im L’Yirah Es Hashem Elokecha…”-“And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your G-d ask from [with] you? Just to fear Hashem your G-d…”7
With this line alone, it sounds as though Moshe was isolating this one thing that G-d wants of us—that we have Yirah, fear or reverence, for Him. In fact, Rashi points out that it is on the basis of this line that Chazal taught that “HaKol Bidei Shamayim Chutz MiYiras Shamayim”-“All is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.”8 In other words, Yiras Shamayim or Awe of Heaven, is the one thing that Heaven, so-to-speak, has no control over, and it is rather up to man and his free will to attain it.
The problem with this teaching is that we know that G-d requires more from us than to just be in awe of Him. He bound us to an entire Torah, containing six hundred thirteen commandments.
The simple answer to this question is that this Pasuk is actually not describing the one thing which G-d demands of us, but rather, if one looks carefully at Moshe’s choice of words, he is describing the one thing G-d asks or requests of us, beyond our regular obligations. That one thing is the Yirah, over which even heaven apparently has no control.
However, even this explanation of Yirah’s unique place in Moshe’s speech does not appear to be one hundred percent accurate if one reads our entire passage. That is because if one reads this verse to its conclusion, Moshe’s list of thing which G-d asks of us goes on. In the Pesukim themselves9, aside from Yirah, Moshe enumerates that G-d requests that we walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him with our entire heart and soul, and observe His commandments and statutes. With that said, Chazal’s teaching that “HaKol Bidei Shamayim Chutz MiYiras Shamayim”8 seems a little bit disingenuous. Hashem clearly is asking much more of us. Why did Chazal single out the first item of the list, Yiras Shamayim, from the major pillars of Avodas Hashem enumerated in the Pesukim? How is Yiras Hashem any less in the hands of heaven than the spiritual imperatives of Ahavas Hashem (love of Hashem) and Halichah B’Drachav (walking in His ways), for example? Is the goal of Ahavas Hashem, which Moshe spent the entire last Sidrah promoting10, not a far greater feat and ideal in Avodas Hashem than Yiras Hashem? Ahavas Hashem is the fire that drives our relationship and marriage with G-d. Why then would anyone even think to pin Yiras Hashem among everything else as G-d’s “one request” of the B’nei Yisrael?
STARTING POINT: Moshe’s Marriage Advice
All of our questions hinge on the premise that Moshe’s address to the B’nei Yisrael, beneath the religious expression, is just basic marriage advice, intended to instill in the people the tools to creating and sustaining a vibrant and healthy relationship with Hashem. With that premise in mind, let us break down Moshe’s speech and reevaluate the issues within.
CAUTION: Two Forgettings – Responsibilities & Relationship
Moshe Rabbeinu warned the B’nei Yisrael not to forget G-d “lest they forget G-d,” an obvious redundancy. But, if one looks closely at Moshe’s initial warning, there was a specific manifestation of this forgetting of G-d which he warned us about; “Hishameir Lecha Pen Tishkach Es Hashem Elokecha L’vilti Sh’mor Mitzvosav…”-“Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem your G-d by not observing His commandments…”2
However, what Moshe was afraid would happen later is, “V’Shachachta Es Hashem Elokecha HaMotzi’acha MeiEretz Mitzrayim…”-“And you will forget Hashem your G-d Who brought you forth from the land of Egypt…”5
Indeed, while there seems to be some overlap between that which Moshe warns the people not to do and what he feared might happen, the two “forgettings” in this passage have a nuance of difference. Understanding Avodas Hashem as a relationship, let us analyze the difference.
Both “forgettings” involve forgetting G-d, but the first one is forgetting G-d by neglecting the basic responsibilities we have toward Him, failing to loyally engage in His service and exert oneself for Him. Hence, “Hishameir Lecha Pen Tishkach Es Hashem Elokecha L’vilti Sh’mor Mitzvosav…”-“Guard yourself, lest you forget Hashem your G-d by not observing His commandments…”2
However, the second forgetting is a forgetting the relationship with G-d almost entirely, ignoring everything that He had done and continues to do for the B’nei Yisrael. They would forget why they had ever loved Him in the first place. This second forgetting is a grossly ungrateful one, such that an onlooker would wonder how someone could possibly steep so low as to betray the One Who had done so much for them. How in fact does that happen? Does it just happen overnight?
This question does not merely pertain to the marriage of Hashem and His nation, but to all marriages that fall apart. If there ever was such a love so intense between two individuals—the spark of passion, affection and appreciation for the other, how could one simply overlook the good later and betray the other later? With all of the love, even true and genuine love, what could possibly be missing?
The answer—the missing detail—is that Moshe is urging Am Yisrael not to forget, namely, the day-to-day responsibilities of its marriage. Of course, the people are not going to one day wake up and maliciously ignore G-d and literally forget the past, that G-d He took them out of Egypt, sustained them in the desert and allows them to live and breathe each second of their lives. The more subtle forgetting of one’s obligations towards his “other” is what leads to that larger forgetting, that loss of interest in the entire relationship. By neglecting to observe Hashem’s Mitzvos—by ignoring one’s responsibilities in the relation, little by little, one effectively undoes His entire relationship with G-d, no differently than one who fails to fulfill his obligations in a marriage and subsequently loses the spark which he once felt for his “other.” Both end up forgetting why they ever loved each other in the first place. One can “feel the love” now, even as he ignores his responsibilities, and he may think that he has the beloved on his mind, but in reality, he has already begun to forget his beloved and is now only really thinking about himself.
THE BEDROCK: Yirah as the Foundation
The antidote to this “forgetfulness” and all broken love lies in Moshe’s advice, later in our Sidrah. The basis for the fulfillment of our marital obligations toward Hashem is Yiras Shamayim, particularly as it relates to “greater goal” Ahavas Hashem. The question we raised earlier was why Chazal defined Yirah as the standalone “request” of Hashem which only we can determine, when Moshe seems to have listed a full laundry list of things G-d requests of the people—including Ahavas Hashem, the fire of our relationship with Hashem. But if one looks closely at the Pasuk, perhaps Chazal saw a slightly different reading of the Pasuk which may change everything.
“V’Atah Yisrael Mah Hashem Sho’eil MeiImach? Ki Im L’Yirah Es Hashem Elokecha LaLeches B’Drachav U’L’Ahavah Oso V’La’Avod Es Hashem Elokecha B’Chal Levavcha U’V’Chal Nafshecha; L’Shmor Es Mitzvos Hashem V’Es Chukosav…”-“And now, Yisrael, what does Hashem your G-d ask from [with] you? Just to fear Hashem your G-d, to thereby walk in His ways and to love Him and to serve Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul; to observe the commandments of Hashem and His statutes…”9
While this list is made up of indispensable keys to Avodas Hashem, perhaps Chazal understood the Pasuk to mean that one must primarily “fear” G-d—revere and awe the sanctity of the relationship with Hashem and one’s obligations to that relationship so that one may fulfill the rest of the caveats. Certainly, this verse is not declaring that Yirah is literally the only one thing which G-d wants from us, but it is the one prerequisite and key which unlocks and gives us access to the rest of these keys which Moshe lists in this passage. One must merely develop and build a stable foundation of healthy Yiras Hashem and then he may subsequently walk in Hashem’s ways, properly love Him, serve Him wholeheartedly and observe the entire Torah. The Yirah—the sense of obligation and responsibility is the key to all the goodness and love of all of our relationships.
Of course love for G-d is important, as love is important in all of our relationships, but the relationship needs a basis and foundation, one which cannot forgotten, one inspired by this Yirah—this iron clad sense of obligation toward the “other.” Love is nothing without exertion and effort to fulfilling one’s responsibilities. In the very same manner, Ahavas Hashem without the fuel and structure provided by Yiras Hashem is doomed.
STRAIGHT PATH: Yirah + Eikev = Awe of the Consequences
The Sidrah begins with “Eikev,” which although seems to mean “dues,” literally means “heel,” a translation which bears many powerful meanings, as we’ve described earlier.11 The connection between “consequences” and the “heel,” as we highlighted in that discussion, may encompass the above ideas in an important way.
Like Yirah to a relationship, the Eikev or heel is the foundation of the body enabling a person to stand upright. The message of Eikev is that one’s actions have natural consequences on the relationship. Those actions upon which those consequences hinge, depend on the foundation, the heel. It does not matter where the heart is if the relationship lacks the heels to keep the relationship balanced.
Thus, Ramban explains that Yiras Shamayim, more than fear, refers to the sense of reverence and awe, a form of “fear” which manifests itself in the awareness of the consequences of one’s choices and actions—how they impact one’s relationship, regardless of one’s “feelings” and “emotions.” Indeed, they do make or break the relationship with G-d as well as any other even if you “love” right now.
FINAL DESTINATION: Strengthening the Foundation – Maintaining Yirah
In the end, this Sidrah not only teaches us the consequences of one’s exertion and the neglect of that exertion for the Torah, but it teaches about the foundation to a relationship, the “heel” that a healthy and substantial relationship needs to fall back on in order to endure. That “heel,” although physically far from the “heart”—although seemingly far from the ideal “Ahavah”—is most necessary. It is this aspect of “Yirah” which fuels our effort towards our obligations and remains the basis of any prevailing relationship. If we have “Ahavah,” the relationship can be sustained, but only with “Yirah” will the relationship be maintained.
May we all be Zocheh to exert the effort it takes to fulfill our obligations to Hashem, create and sustain a powerful and prevailing relationship with Him, and He should return His endless love to us, bringing us closer to the final Geulah and Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 8:17
- Ibid. 8:11
- Ibid. 8:12
- Ibid. 8:13
- Ibid. 8:14
- Ibid. 8:18
- Ibid. 10:12
- Citing Brachos 33B
- Devarim 10:12-13
- Ibid. 4:4, 6:4
- See what I wrote earlier; “The Heel of Your Actions – Reward or Consequence?”