May 22, 2024
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May 22, 2024
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We’ve all been there. We’ve all likely had breathtaking experiences, where the sight of our eyes exceeds the figment of our imagination, where our state of awe sheds away the absorptions of our daily lives. Some might smile with glee, while some will stay focusly captured. Some may laugh at the exquisiteness of the scene, while others will remain warmly content, taking in the vision with deep appreciation. Some of these experiences are quite humbling, it gives us perspective, and if used wisely, can heighten our sense of Hashem’s majesty. It is indeed awesome.

Moshe Rabbeinu tells us that Hashem requests for us to have yirah of Him. One way to understand yirah is to develop an awareness of Hashem’s greatness, to appreciate the splendor of the world He created, to live in a state of awe at His ubiquitous presence that encapsulates space in its entirety and that can be found in even the most seemingly insignificant facet of creation. However, it doesn’t have to be the overwhelming experience at the mountaintop, or the magnificence of a botanical garden, but rather that which we interact with and occupy on a daily basis can all be utilized to facilitate this awareness and ultimately a deep appreciation of Hashem’s presence and majesty.

Indeed, the language of the pasuk in this week’s parsha is ועתה ישראל מה ה’ אלהיך שאל מעמך כי אם־ליראה את־ה’ אלקיך, and the Gemara (Menachot 43b) teaches that the word מה can also be understood as מאה, one hundred, thus hinting to the idea of reciting one hundred blessings a day. It’s thus inherent in this teaching that recognition of the “simple” things we have, and having gratitude for them—which is demonstrated by blessings—helps us attain awareness of Hashem’s presence and that He is the sole provider of everything we have. In fact, when we say “blessed are You, Hashem” it shows that we are acknowledging that Hashem is right here (since we say “you” as if we are talking to someone presently with us)—we are talking to Him as if he is right here, because, in fact, He is. “Blessed are You, Hashem, for creating the fruits of the tree, for giving eyesight, for healing the sick” etc. The blessings help us understand deeper that it’s Hashem who creates and provides, even though it might seem like it’s nature or others who do.

Thus, focusing on the wonders of creation, and on the bounty we have in our lives, appreciating them and expressing our appreciation in the form of a blessing is one way we can achieve this awareness of Hashem’s greatness.

There’s also another way to understand yirah, which is developing an awareness of consequence. It’s almost synonymous with fear (which is the common term in the lexicon of people), but essentially it’s really a clear realization of the impact of our actions or the lack of them. One might think that this awareness of consequence can be debilitating, depressing, or even paralyzing. However, R’ Noach Weinberg points out that in truth, when we have this awareness, it frees our potential and releases us from truly unhealthy fears and pettiness in daily living, while infusing every moment of life with great meaning. Understanding consequences keeps one in check so that he or she maximizes every moment, and realizing the possibility of missed opportunities is a motivation to get us where we want to be. This awareness does not reflect on Hashem’s desire to control or punish us, but rather it is implemented in order to create a guided path for us to get where we want and need to be. It does not stifle; it energizes.

Ramban on the above pasuk points out that yirah is certainly for our benefit. Hence, the totality of what is meant by yirah can help us achieve the most meaning in our lives. I noticed that in the pasuk above, Hashem doesn’t directly demand or command us to have yirah, but rather He asks it from us, indicating that there is no bias involved—it’s only for our benefit. Living with the awareness of Hashem’s greatness and bringing that into fruition through appreciation, coupled with the awareness of consequence can both be a dynamic duo for propelling us into a deeper and more profound relationship with Hashem, and thus enhancing the quality of our lives. Indeed, Shlomo Hamelech writes, “yirat Hashem adds to one’s days” (Mishlei 10:27), and the Malbim explains that this is not only a reference to the quantity of one’s life, but also to the quality of one’s life, namely that with yirat Hashem one’s life will be pleasant and tranquil.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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