What does Hashem ask of you?

We saw the following gemara (Berakhos 33b, Megillah 25a and Niddah 16b) in our discussion of yir’ah (“Awe and Fear“):

ואמר רבי חנינא: הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. שנאמר (דברים י:יב) “עַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵֽעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָה…?”

Rabbi Chanina said: Everything is in the hands of [the One in] heaven except for yir’as Shamayim, as it says: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d demand of you but to feel yir’ah?” (Devarim 10:12).

Rabbi Chanina understands Moshe Rabbeinu as saying Hashem wants yir’as Shamayim alone. But it’s not clear that this is what Moshe Rabbeinu really says. Here is a more complete quote of the chumash (v. 12-13):

וְעַתָּה֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מָ֚ה ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ שֹׁאֵ֖ל מֵֽעִמָּ֑ךְ כִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָה אֶת־ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֜יךָ לָלֶ֤כֶת בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו֙ וּלְאַֽהֲבָ֣ה אֹת֔וֹ וְלַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־ה אֱ-לֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ לִשְׁמֹ֞ר אֶת־מִצְו֤͏ֹת ה֙ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם לְט֖וֹב לָֽךְ׃

And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, but that you fear / be in awe of Hashem your G-d to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. To observe the mitzvoth of God and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good.

Implicit then in Rabbi Chanina’s position is that Moshe rabbeinu is not listing five elements but giving us a progression. It all starts with the decision for yir’ah, because yir’ah is the fulcrum about which free will revolves. As he puts it, only thing in our control.

Before getting to what the progression looks like in detail, I want to quote the Ramchal, who uses this entire list to explain man’s job in this world in his introduction to Mesilas Yesharim:

This is what Moses our Teacher, may Peace be upon him, teaches us …

Herein have been included all of the features of perfection of Divine service that are appropriate in relation to the Holy One blessed be He. They are:

  1. היראה – fear/awe of G-d,
  2. ההליכה בדרכיו – walking in His ways,
  3. האהבה – love,
  4. שלמות הלב – wholeheartedness, and
  5. שמירת כל המצוות – observance of all of the mitzvoth.

“היראה – Yir’ah of G-d” denotes yir’ah of the Majesty of the Blessed One, yir’ah of Him as one would a great and mighty king, and being ashamed at one’s every movement in consequence of His greatness, especially when speaking before Him in prayer or engaging in the study of His Torah.

“ההליכה בדרכיו – Walking in His ways” embodies the whole area of cultivation and correction of character traits. As our Sages of blessed memory have explained, “אבא שאול אומר: ‘ואנוהו’ הוי דומה לו] מה הוא [חנון ו]רחום אף אתה היה [חנון ו]רחום – [Abba Shaul says: ‘And I shall glorify Him – ואנוהו – be similar to Him.] Just as He is [giving and] merciful, be also [giving and] merciful…” (Shabbos 133b) The essence of all this is that a person conform all of his traits and all the varieties of his actions to what is just and ethical. Chazal have thus summarized the idea:

[רבי אומר: איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם?] כל שהיא תפארת לעושיה, ותפארת לו מן האדם…

[Rebbe says: What is the “straight path” that a person should traverse?] All that is praiseworthy in its doer and brings praise to him from others…

– Avos 1:2

that is, all that leads to the end of true good, namely, strengthening of Torah and furthering of brotherliness.

“האהבה – Love” – that there be implanted in a person’s heart a love for the Blessed One which will arouse his soul to do what is pleasing before Him, just as his heart is aroused to give pleasure to his father and mother. He will be grieved if he or others are lacking in this; he will be jealous for it and he will rejoice greatly in fulfilling aught of it.

“שלמות הלב – Whole-heartedness” – that service before the Blessed One be characterized by purity of motive, that its end be His service alone and nothing else. Included in this is that one’s heart be complete in Divine service, that his interests not be divided or his observance mechanical, but that his whole heart be devoted to it.

“שמירת כל המצוות – Observance of all the mitzvos,” as the words imply, is observance of the whole body of mitzvos with all of their fine points and conditions.

So, what is in our control is that first step, (1) “leyir’ah es Hashem.” Yir’ah then leads to themselves in terms of (2) emulating Hashem, (3) loving Him, (4) serving him wholeheartedly and (5) mitzvah observance.

The second step in this progression is “walking in his ways”. Yir’ah, the fear and awe that is the experience of encountering Someone Greater than ourselves, would naturally generate a desire to follow His example and thereby also reach for greatness. So, the first two steps can be seen as the emotion of the encounter and what reaction that evinces from us.

And I would say the same thing is true of the next two steps: loving Him and serving Hashem wholeheardedly. From yir’ah and emulating Hashem, we come to loving Him — one middah and its physical expression leading to the next middah and its response. Ahavah isn’t really “another side” to our relationship with the Creator, aside from yir’ah. As I quoted from Rav Yitzchak Hutner at the close of post I titled “Yir’ah and its Middos“:

Yir’ah without love – surely there is here a deficiency of yir’ah;
love without yir’ah – there is nothing here at all.

Ahavas Hashem must be founded on yir’as Shamayim, just as love is always only of something valued. Without an awareness of Hashem’s importance, and His significance to me to me personally, I cannot relate to Him as Beloved. So, yir’ah and walking in His Ways can bring me to ahavah. (And similarly, the reverse; loving Hashem gives us more fear of defy His Will. We want those we love to have their desires satisfied.)

Step four: Like yir’ah, this ahavah must also be physically expressed. Yir’ah motivates walking in the ways Hashem does, emulating His Greatness, taking care to make sure His Will is manifest. Ahavah motivates walking Hashem’s path in a different sense — the path to Him. To wholeheartedly seek to live in His service and to cleave to the Creator.

From there we get to the last step in Moshe’s list halakhah and mitzvos. The Ramchal clearly denies the idea that observing halakhah is the entirety of following the Torah. Halakhah is the synthesis of these goals or a means to navigate their conflict. It is the means to know when to operate on the plane of yir’ah-emulation or on the plane of love-cleaving, and thus have something greater than either.

However, Moshe doesn’t state the point of observing Hashem’s chuqim and mizvos. To get to the end of the road, we need to see a parallel quote from Mikhah (6:8):

הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טֹּ֑וב וּמָֽה־ה֞׳ דֹּורֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשֹׂ֤ות מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹקֶֽיךָ׃

He has told you, human, what is good and what Hashem requires of you: just to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your G-d.

Moshe opens “Now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, just…” Many of the same words But note the differences. Moshe speaks to Yisrael, Mikhah addresses Adam – human, not specifically a Jewish one. Moshe talks about “sho’el — ask”, Mikhah uses the more pressing “doreish – require”. There are enough connection with the “mah Hashem… ki im… — what does Hashem… but” that we know Mikhah is referring to Moshe Rabbeinu’s thought.

In fact, it appears the point of this reference is that Mikhah intends to continue. Moshe ends “to observe Hashem’s mitzvos and his chuqim which I am commanding you today letov lakh — for your good“. Mikhah begins by asking what is that tov that Hashem is looking for us to embody. Mikhah is given detail for the end of Moshe’s road. The good Hashem wants us to enjoy is to be “just, love kindness, and walk modestly” with Him. That is Hashem’s demand, the more firm “doreish“. Following halakhah is perhaps framed more gently because it is “merely” the most effective means to that end.

Interestingly, Mikhah also picks up on the themes of love and of walking. Themes Moshe said about walking in Hashem’s Ways and loving Him, Mikhah describes as loving kindness and walking modestly with Him. As though was we called the yir’ah motivated emulation of Hashem centers around modesty, and how He lets us have the spotlight. And that our love of G-d is primarily expressed in kindness to His children.

Adding together the two pesuqim, then, we get a more complete description of the path Hashem expects us to walk:

  1. To be aware of the enormity of the Divine, with all the awe and fear of that experience
  2. which should motivate us to emulate that Divine Greatness in modesty, allowing the good to shine through, rather than worrying about ourselves. (This stands in interesting contrast to “Frumkeit”, which Rav Wolbe defined as a drive to follow the mitzvos in a self-centered search for personal holiness.)
  3. Once cherishing the value of Hashem, we come to love Him
  4. and aim everything at wholeheartedly following His Plan to be good to us.
  5. Hashem gave us Jews the Torah and mitzvos by which we can achieves this balance..
  6. To help us become good human beings, creatures who are fair, motivated by lovingkindness, humility, in our partnership with our Creator.

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