Monday, October 20, 2008

VeZos HaBrachah 5653 Second Ma'amar

The Sfas Emes teaches us that the last few words of the Torah and the first few words are connected by a common theme. The Torah begins, “בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא .../In the beginning He created …” Chazal teach us that everything was created in order to glorify God. In Koheles we find, “... וְהָאֱ-לֹהִים עָשָׂה שֶׁיִרְאוּ מִלְּפָנָיו/… and God acted so that they would be in awe before Him.” According to Chazal, Koheles is teaching us that God created the world for us to use to cultivate a sense of awe before Him.

The Hebrew word for fear – יִרְאָה – also connotes awe. People fear punishment, be it earthly or Gehenom. They are afraid of it. But when we speak of fearing God Himself, we are speaking of an awe that comes as a result of contemplating His exaltedness.

Standing in awe before God is a much higher level than fearing punishment. The reason is, the Sfas Emes explains, because punishment and the mechanisms for punishing are creations. Fearing punishment is fearing a creation of God. This is obviously a lower level than standing in awe before God Himself.

When Koheles says, “שֶׁיִרְאוּ מִלְּפָנָיו/that they should stand in awe before Him,” he is clearly referring to the second type of fear – the awe that comes as a result of contemplating God’s greatness. It is this awe that the last pasuk of the Torah is referring to, “... לְכֹל הַמּוֹרָא הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה לְעֵינֵי כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל/… concerning the great awe that Moshe inspired before the eyes of all Israel.” Moshe inspired this great awe at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. At that time he said, “... לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם בָּא הָאֱ-לֹהִים וּבַעֲבוּר תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל־פְּנֵיכֶם .../… For God has come in order to test you and in order that His awe be upon you …”

God wants His awe to be upon us rather than fear of His creations. What can we do to achieve this awe? The Sfas Emes teaches that this of awe of God comes through Torah. One who learns and occupies himself with Torah merits the enlightenment that enlightened the nation of Israel at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is this enlightenment which leads to an appreciation of God’s greatness and awe of Him.

This awe is hinted at in the very first word of the Torah, בְּרֵאשִׁית/In the beginning. The Tikunei Zohar[1] switches the letters so that they read, “יָרֵא בֹּשֶׁת/fear from shame”. Contemplating God’s greatness and comparing it with our own lowliness results in a certain self-shame and we cannot help but stand in awe before God.

The Tikunei Zohar continues with yet another hint from the first word of the Torah, “יָרֵא שַׁבָּת/fear Shabbos”. The Sfas Emes explains that this hint is exhorting us to “rest” from all our activities and thoughts in favor of standing in awe before God. A certain hisbatlus – self deprecation, is a prerequisite for standing in awe before God.

The world was created for this person. This is the reason that this awe is alluded to in the first word of the Torah describing the Creation. The wise person who contemplates all the frightening creations that exist in the world, realizes that they are only creations and against God they are nothing. This contemplation, as well, brings him to an awe of God’s exaltedness. May we merit it!

[1] The Tikunei Zohar, a book comprising seventy chapters in 296 pages, was written to explain the first word of the Torah – Breishis.

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