והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר ה’ אלקיך לך את הברית ואת החסד אשר נשבע לאבותך And, the result will be, when you adhere to these laws and do them, Hashem your G-d will keep the covenant and the kindness which he swore to your Forefathers. The word עקב is expounded upon in the Midrash Tanchuma: The meaning of the word עקב ,literally “heel”, refers to the Mitzvot that a person belittles, treds upon, as it were, with his heel – for these mitzvoth the reward is great as for other mitzvoth which are considered of paramount importance. As mentioned in Psalms, בשמרם עקב רב , reward is reserved for those who keep the small mitzvoth.
R’ Ben Tzion Mutsafi expounds on this. In the army, a soldier is obliged to have his face cleanly shaved, shirt tucked in, boots tied, and hair cut short. Paying attention to these little things, the things that people take for granted, is often the criterion being judged as obedient. These seemingly minute details put one into a state of mind and make one subconsciously acknowledge the authority of whoever demands them. And, our state of mind determines the quality and fervor of how we do things.
Coming to shul early enough to say what we need to say, without catching up. Not speaking in shul. Praying from the siddur. These things, although they seem to have only secondary importance, things that are not as great as the Amidah itself or as great as the Kriat Shema, will make the whole difference in the quality of our Amidah and Kriat Shema . ….The things that we step on: the open cell phone during prayers… The way we dress when we come to shul.
This is true in regard to the Mitzvah of Shabbat. ממצוא חפציך ודבר דבר – in the words we say before Kiddush Shabbat day, we mention the law of the Prophets that we refrain from “speaking speech that refers to things that are forbidden on Shabbat.” This law, says R’ Mutsafi, is a law that many “step on with their heel.” The more careful we are in keeping this law, the more seriousness we will relate to our adherence to the 39 Melachot that are forbidden from the Torah as well .
The Midrash Hagadol focuses on the words ושמרתם ועשיתם : the words that mean, literally, to keep and observe. The word שמור refers to keeping the Mitzvot. Keeping, or watching means to preparing yourself for and awaiting the opportunity to do the mitzvah. Be ready for it before it comes, and when it comes, do it in the most beautiful and praiseworthy way possible. Accept and welcome the Shabbat early. Be among the first in shul awaiting a minyan. Although in the world we know, a worker will not receive any special payment from his boss for coming early and waiting for his job to begin, this is not true in regard to our reward for Mitzvot. We are rewarded for being ready ahead of time. This behavior can be observed in old-timers. We tend to think that they are ready early to perform a mitzvah because they do not have that many things to do. The truth is that this was how things were in the last generation. Coming to shul early, awaiting prayers was a value that was widespread, understood and respected.
If we look closely at the prayer that is cited at a Siyum of a tractate in Shas, we will notice an interesting statement : אנו רצים והם רצים… We run and they run. . . When it comes to getting paid as a worker, the boss does not care if you came by foot and it took you a couple of hours, just be there on time! With doing a mitzvah it is not that way. The effort put in in order to get you to the Mitzvah is reckoned in with precision: How far shul is from your house? One gets rewarded for every step he takes along the way. Let us remember that the “heel “, is what might make the whole difference of what type of World we have waiting for us.
DISCIPLINING – PARENTING OR PERSONAL
There are times when a parent must reprimand or punish a child. Ideally, of course, the parent should pause before taking action and think things over. Is he (or she) acting out of love for the child, or for some other reason? Unfortunately, some parents fool themselves or simply ignore this crucial question. The Ben Ish Chai helps us see that the Torah itself hints at the importance of making this reckoning before disciplining a child.
In this week’s parashah ( Devarim 8:8 ), the Torah says: Know in your heart that Hashem, your G-d, punishes you as a man punishes his son (וידעת עם לבבך כי כאשר ייסר איש את בנו ה’ אלקיך מיסרך). TheBen Ish Chai asks: Would it not be more appropriate to speak of a father punishing his son rather than a man punishing his son?
He answers with this remarkable insight. Although a parent usually loves his child more than anyone else does, the parent does not, unfortunately, always have the good of the child in mind. A father, for example, may be motivated by embarrassment over having a child who did this or that inappropriate thing. In contrast, when an adoptive father needs to rebuke his child that he adopted out of love, he probably does so solely out of concern for the child’s good. He does not take the misbehavior to heart as a real father does.
And this is the way G-d rebukes and punishes us when we deserve it. He never punishes us out of “self-interest,” so to speak. He disciplines us in order to better us. This is what the Torah means when it speaks of a man punishing his son rather than a father punishing his son.
Before a parent punishes his child, he must ask himself this question. “Am I bothered by the damage to my image or by the fact that my child may not grow up to be a good person if he gets used to acting this way?” If parents would always ask themselves this question before reacting to their child’s misbehavior, they would be better parents and would raise better children.
FEARFUL FOR A LIVING
In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe Rabbeinu said to our nation, during his final national address, “ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה את ה’ אלקיך” And now, Israel, what does HaShem your G-d ask from you more than to fear Him… (Devarim 10:12). This is, of course, a major undertaking; as Shlomoh HaMelech wrote, “’אם תבקשנה ככסף וכמטמונים תחפשנה אז תבין יראת ה” If you beseech it as if it is silver and if, like treasures, you search it, then you will comprehend the fear of G-d (Mishlei 2:4-5). It emerges from these words of Shlomo HaMelech that the quest to achieve the fear of G-d is a lifetime’s work. This is confirmed by the words of the prophet Yonah when he was found to be the cause of the storm that threatened the lives of those on the Nineveh-bound ship. When the crewmembers on Yonah’s ship interrogated him, asking who he was and what was his occupation, he answered, “עברי אנכי ואת ה’ אלקי השמים אני ירא” I am a Jew and I fear HaShem, the G-d of the Heavens (Yonah 1:9). Yonah responded that his occupation is that he “fears G-d”. How did Yonah answer their question about his occupation by answering his religion? Although this sounds foreign to many of us, bringing G-d into one’s life and feeling His Presence tangibly was the occupation and identity of many Jews for thousands of years.
Fearing G-d has many levels. The Ben Ish Chai conveys the following idea of one of the highest levels, indicating how far the rational fear of G-d can elevate one, directly influencing one’s behavior and imbuing within a person an extremely high degree of the emotion of fear. He starts by drawing on the following observation.
We call the fear of G-d in Hebrew יראת שמים – literally the fear of Heaven. Isn’t Heaven the place where G-d dwells? Would it not be then more precise to describe fear of Him as יראת השם – the fear of His name?
The answer the Ben Ish Chai gives is that the word שמים Heaven, according to one explanation, is a combination of the words אש ומים – fire and water. Our Rabbis explain that Heaven was created with fire and water – usually two extreme opponents. Normally, when combined, fire evaporates water and water extinguishes fire. Nonetheless, out of fear of their Creator, these two elements bond, defy their inherent nature, and resist their opposing laws of existence in order to coexist and fulfill G-d’s will. The Ben Ish Chai expounds that this is the very reason why we refer to “fear of G-d” as “fear of Heaven”. It is not only describing the object of the fear per se but rather a degree of fear. The fear emotion on this degree is so strong and real that all values, instincts and interests melt in its presence. This, of course, is close to an ultimate degree of fear that is not easily attainable.
Many interpret “G-d fearing” as referring to a person who will act no less righteously alone than when in front of others. This is also a very difficult level of Fear of G-d to attain. One may perceive another’s efforts to be in a position where he is not alone as often as possible, saving himself from being tempted to sin, as a level of fearing G-d that is praiseworthy. This is definitely a more attainable level of Fear of G-d. The responsibility each Jew is given is to always look for the next level where fear of G-d can be intensified as a new goal and strive for it.
Internalizing fear begins on an intellectual level. The Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim, “When a person constantly focuses on the truism that the Almighty King, HaShem, Whose glory fills the whole world, stands over him and sees his actions, …., immediately, he will attain fear and trepidation of G-d, and will be embarrassed before Him.” This is the way our forefathers achieved fear of G-d prior to our receiving the Torah atMount Sinai. Our Rabbis teach that we are able to instill fear of G-d through study of and adherence to Torah laws. Contemplating the endless efforts spent by the Rabbis who compiled halachic works, from the Mishnah to the present, to clarify what the law is and the precision of their words can bring us to fear of G-d.
The concept of fear is intellectual; how do we feel fear? Theoretical or long-term dangers, such as the effect of smoking on one’s health, do not elicit a reflexive fear. We may be able to learn how to attain fear of G-d by studying how a parent instills fear of going into the street in his child. A rabbi once commented that “fear of transgressing G-d’s words and caution of following them should be no less than the fear and caution of walking into a very busy highway.”
A responsible parent should plan how to teach his child not to rush carelessly into the street. Some parents severely reprimand a child “after the fact.” The most effective way to prevent such behavior is to read illustrated books specifically designed to transmit the fear of such an act to the child. Of course, toddlers and young children must be punished appropriately for stepping into a street alone, but this may not instill fear of the street as much as it instills fear of the parent. Fear is somehow assimilated by the child when he sees that we ourselves are afraid of the danger there. In other words emotions are osmotic. Movie producers may put a tear on an actor’s cheek in order to put one on the cheek of the viewer. T/V show producers know that when we see others cry or laugh, we, too, follow suit. Interestingly enough, the same is true for yawning. If someone yawns in a room full of people, a ripple effect of yawning often takes place.. The emotion of fear is “osmotic” as well; when a child sees people afraid of the cars on the street, he will automatically absorb that fear. Of course, this subconscious lesson can be undermined if he is exposed to people who are not afraid, such as jaywalkers or even his own parents who do not obey traffic rules.
This concept can help us in our lifelong mission to fear G-d. One must seek to be connected to people that demonstrate fear of G-d in their lives, and avoid contact with people who do not. Fear and its absence are both contagious.
A study was conducted in which a group of four chimpanzees was taken and locked in a two-story house. The researchers placed a large amount of good-smelling “chimpanzee food” upstairs. They installed there a sprinkler of boiling hot water that would be activated automatically when the sensor recognized the arrival of a person or animal. One chimpanzee smelled the enticing food, climbed the stairs and was duly burnt by the boiling hot water: the poor thing jumped down the stairs screaming. Another chimpanzee made a similar attempt, and it followed the fate of the first. The other two did not even attempt to go up. The experimenters removed one of the chimpanzees and placed another in its stead. The new chimpanzee did not attempt to go upstairs either, although it had not been there when the first two got burnt. Then, they replaced another one of the four with a new one. It did not go up either. They replaced the third, and then the fourth, and still, no chimpanzee dared to go upstairs to eat the food. Although the researchers continuously changed the chimpanzees, the fear was still present.
I do not know from where so many chimpanzees were obtained, but the premise of the study is a very good one. Although the chimpanzees may not have communicated their fear verbally, by observing that the others were afraid, the new chimpanzees feared going upstairs as well.