Eikev 5779


The two types of yirah[1]

ועתה ישראל מה יקוק אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם-ליראה את-יקוק אלקיך וגו’‏
And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask from you, just to fear Hashem your G-d…[2]

This weeks parsha tells us the main thing that Hashem asks from us: to be ירא him. There are various ways to translate this word, usually “fear” or “awe”. We are commanded to have fear and awe of Hashem. However, there are two types of יראה. There’s יראת העונש, fear of punishment[3], and יראת הרוממות, awe of Hashem’s loftiness[4]. The former is easy to obtain, and the latter is considered a high level in the service of Hashem[5]. We can then ask, when the Torah tell us the main thing Hashem wants from us is to fear and have awe of Him, which יראה is this referring to? Fear of punishment, or awe of Hashem’s loftiness[6]?

There are grammarians that suggest[7] that the way the Torah uses the word יראה is indicative of which type it’s referring to. If it’s connected to a word with the prefix מ (from), such as ויראת מאלקיך ‎[8], it’s referring to the fear of punishment. If it’s connected to the word את (which points to a direct object), such as את יקוק אלקיך תירא ‎[9], then it’s referring to the awe of Hashem’s loftiness. However, we find many counterexamples to this division. Yaakov said, כי ירא אנכי אותו פן יבא וכני, that he was afraid of his brother Eisav[10]. Kalev said, אל תיראו את עם הארץ כי לחמנו הם, not to fear the inhabitants of the land of Israel[11]. King Shaul said, כי יראתי את העם ואשמע בקולם, that he was afraid of the people[12]. These three examples can only be understood to be referring to a physical fear, corresponding to the fear of punishment. Yet they all contain the word את ‎[13]. It must be that there’s another way to discern which fear is being conveyed.

Another possibility is that whenever we find יראה connected with G-d’s name אלקים, it’s referring to the fear of punishment. This name is appropriately associated with Hashem’s attribute of strict justice[14]. However, if we find יראה connected with G-d’s ineffable name יקוק, it’s referring to the awe of Hashem’s loftiness. This is due to the fact that this name is associated with Hashem’s attributes of love and mercy[15]. Whenever the Torah refers to the יראה of the prophets and those of great stature, it uses the name יקוק. For example, it says about the prophet Ovadiah that היה ירא את יקוק מאד ‎[16]. It says about those serve Hashem to honor His name: אז נדברו יראי יקוק[17]. As well, those who by nature connect more to spirituality are referred to as איש ‎[18], and it says about them אשרי איש ירא את יקוק[19].

However, we are taught[20] that Iyov (Job)’s service of Hashem was on a lower stature. Therefore, he is described as a תם וישר וירא אלקים, implying his fear was that of punishment[21]. As well, whenever scripture describes those who had a certain affinity towards or connection to physicality, it only says they had יראת אלקים. This is because it is harder for them to achieve the loftier level of יראה הרוממות. Therefore, the end of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) proscribes that, את האלקים ירא, people should have the lower level of fear[22]. This is because it is speaking to the masses, those who are generally connected to physicality[23]. They need to work on the lower level first. King David as well was considered connected to physicality[24], and it says about him:  ויירא דויד את האלקים[25].

However, there seems to also be counterexamples against this litmus test. It says that Avraham was a ירא אלקים[26]. Yosef as well says about himself that: את האלקים אני ירא[27]. These two surely were on a high level, and served Hashem out of awe of His loftiness[28]. Why then does it say the name אלקים when describing their יראה? It must be because the name יקוק wasn’t yet well-known before the Torah was given. Hashem Himself even says that He was not known to the forefathers by this name[29]. Therefore, it uses the name אלקים, which was more well-known in their days.

Now, the Torah says ויראת מאלקיך after five different mitzvos: not to curse a deaf person[30], to stand before someone elderly[31], not to hurt someone with words[32], not to charge interest[33], and not to overwork your Hebrew servant[34]. Why does it specify the name אלקים, implying a lower level of fear? Our Rabbis point out[35] that the Torah says the expression ויראת מאלקיך whenever there is a potential loss of money at stake[36]. Since a person who is connected to physicality and their money might be tempted to transgress these mitzvos, the Torah specifically mentioned the lower level of fear of punishment, associated with physicality.

However, when יראה is connected to both names of G-d, אלקים and יקוק, it’s referring to both types of יראה: fear of punishment and awe of Hashem’s loftiness. The Torah is speaking to people on all levels. Those who are naturally inclined towards physicality need to work on their fear of punishment. Those who are naturally inclined towards spirituality need to work on their awe of Hashem’s loftiness. Therefore, the verse we started with, which says ומה יקוק אלקיך שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה אותו, and uses both names of Hashem, must be referring to both types of יראה.

This also gives new explanation for a question of Chazal. They ask[37] how come the verse says that Hashem “just” asks us to fear Him. That sounds like it’s no big deal. But is fear of Heaven such an easy task? According to the above, the verse makes sense. It’s speaking about both types of יראה, and is speaking to every person on their level. Someone who has a harder time connecting to spirituality, in fact has an easy time fearing punishment. For them, the fear the Torah asks of them is easy. However, the awe of Hashem’s loftiness is beyond their current grasp. At their current level, it’s too difficult. The Torah doesn’t expect that of them at this stage in their life. This is contrast to someone who easily connects to spirituality. They don’t need to work on their fear of punishment. For them, the Torah wants them to work on their awe of Hashem’s loftiness. This is something that for someone of their stature, is easily attainable. It’s not as difficult as it would initially seem[38].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on HaKesav VeHaKabbalah to Deuteronomy 10:12

[2] Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[3] See Psalms 119:120 with Rashi

[4] See Abarbanel to Deuteronomy loc. cit.

[5] יראת העונש is found in Chapter 4 of Mesillas Yesharim, describing the מידה of זהירות, whereas יראת הרוממות when performing mitzvos and praying is found in Chapter 19, describing the מידה of חסידות. It is later found in Chapter 24, when describing the מידה of יראת החטא, which is יראת הרוממות at all times. The book follows a bottom-up format, so this indicates the difficulty in achieving יראת הרוממות

[6] See Sefer HaBris 2:4 אהבה ויראה Chapter 12

[7] I’m not sure who is he specifically had in mind. All I found was the Siddur Dover Shalom (by Rav Yitzchak Eliyahu Landau, 19th century, a contemporary of HaKesav VeHaKabbalah) end of Pesukei D’Zimra s.v. וייראו העם says that יראה with את is referring to יראת הרוממות, and without את is most of the time יראת העונש

[8] Leviticus 19:14. See below

[9] Deuteronomy 6:13

[10] Genesis 32:12

[11] Numbers 14:9

[12] I Samuel 15:24

[13] HaKesav VeHaKabbalah rejects the possibility to distinguish between the fear of man to Hashem and the fear of man to his fellow

[14] See Rashi to Genesis 1:1 and See Psalms 75:8

[15] See Rashi loc. cit.

[16] I Kings 18:3

[17] Malachi 3:16. See Targum Yonasan ad. loc.

[18] I’m not sure his source. Perhaps because we find that Moshe was called איש (Exodus 32:1 and Numbers 12:3, see Rashi to Exodus 18:7)

[19] Psalms 112:1

[20] Sotah 27b

[21] Job 1:1

[22] Ecclesiastes 12:13

[23] See HaKesav VeHaKabbalah to Numbers 23:19

[24] See I Samuel 16:12 and Bereishis Rabbah 63:8, brought in Yalkut Shimoni Al Nach § 124

[25] I Chronicles 13:12

[26] Genesis 22:12

[27] Ibid 42:18

[28] Regarding Avraham, see Isaiah 41:8

[29] Exodus 6:3

[30] Leviticus 19:14

[31] Ibid 19:32

[32] Ibid 25:17 (Bava Metziah 58b, see note 36)

[33] Ibid v. 36

[34] Ibid v. 43

[35] He quotes this from רז”ל. I couldn’t find any source for this statement. Kol Eliyahu (by Rav Eliyahu HaTzafarti, 18th century) end of parshas Emor says this specifically regarding charging interest. See also Beis HaLevi (by Rav Yerucham Segal, 19th century, a descendant of the Taz) parshas Kedoshim. It is noteworthy that the Mossad HaRav Kook edition of HaKesav VeHaKabbalah, which cites everything he quotes, doesn’t provide a source

[36] This is a very problematic statement. Only the last two mitzvos, not to charge interest or to overwork your servant, are obviously cases where there could be a financial loss. The second mitzvah, to stand before the elderly, could be referring to a case where by standing, a person will interrupt the work they’re in the middle of performing. This delay could result in a loss, albeit a slight one. However, the gemarra explicitly says that a person shouldn’t interrupt their work to stand for someone (Kiddushin 33a). Perhaps that’s only when a person is hired, but if they are self-employed, they are required. However, the gemarra and Toras Kohanim ad. loc. sound like there is no requirement to lose financially (…אף קימה שאין בה ביטול; מה קימה שאין בה חסרון כיס…). The third mitzvah, that of אונאה, not to verbally abuse someone, isn’t clear how it could lead to a financial loss. Unless HaKesav VeHakabbalah is referring to the other type of אונאה, not to overcharge someone. That’s clearly something that could lead to a financial loss. However, Chazal teach us (Bava Metziah loc. cit.) that that mitzvah is learned from v. 14, not this one that HaKesav VeHaKabbalah quotes. As well, it explicitly points out that ויראת מאלקיך is specifically mentioned when there is no financial loss, such as verbal abuse. It’s also not clear to me how not cursing a deaf person (or any Jew for that matter), could lead to a loss of money. That verse also includes לפני עור לא תתן מכשול, which includes giving bad advice (Rashi ad. loc., quoting Toras Kohanim ad. loc.). That could possibly lead to a loss of money, although HaKesav VeHaKabbalah only mentions cursing a deaf person

[37] Berachos 33b

[38] See Derashos HaRan § 10