Az Yashir: And the People Feared Hashem
וייראו העם את ה …and the people feared Hashem…
We concluded last week’s segment with a piece from the Chovos HaL’vavos. He wrote that the greatest favors that Hashem blessed B’nei Yisrael with are Torah and the miracles performed by Moshe Rabbeinu. These are the greatest favors because they give us the greatest gifts, which are a greater awareness and a greater clarity of Hashem’s unique existence and control of the world and of every aspect of our individual lives.
We mentioned that the words “asher asah” mean that Hashem intentionally performed all these miracles just to give this gift. This gift is called Yir’as Hashem. That is why immediately after “אשר עשה ה'–asher asah Hashem (that Hashem inflicted)” we now come to “וייראו העם את ה'–VaYi’r’u ha’am es Hashem (and the people feared Hashem).” Yir’as Hashem means “to be aware that the presence of Hashem is everywhere” (sefer Ohr Avigdor on the Chovos HaL’vavos). The miracles Hashem performed for us led us to Yir’as Hashem.
The Chovos HaL’vavos uses the same words – “הגדולה שבטובות–ha’g’dolah she’b’tovos (the greatest of favors)” – in his introduction, where he writes that the greatest of favors that Hashem bestowed upon His servants, who are able to speak, is chochmah (wisdom). HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l (sefer Ohr Avigdor on the Chovos HaL’vavos) quotes the pasuk that we say each morning: “ראשית חכמה יראת ה'–Reishis chochmah yir’as Hashem (The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Hashem” (T’hilim 111:10). “The highest wisdom is the fear of Hashem. It means that we have to be aware that the presence of Hashem is everywhere. That realization is the pinnacle of wisdom” (sefer Ohr Avigdor on the Chovos HaL’vavos).
The Torah in Parshas Eikev (D’varim 10:12) writes: ועתה, ישראל, מה ה' א-לוקיך שואל מעמך, כי אם ליראה את ה'–V’atah, Yisrael, mah Hashem Elokecha sho’eil mei’imach, ki im l’yir’ah es Hashem… (Now, O Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only to fear Hashem…).” HaRav Eliyahu Lopian zt”l in his Lev Eliyahu writes that Yir’as Hashem leads to the other four items mentioned in the pasuk. The ikar of wisdom and of what Hashem asks of us is Yir’as Hashem – to be aware of His presence at all times. This then leads to purifying our midos and emulating His Ways, to loving Him, serving Him with all of our heart and soul, and to performing His mitzvos.
Lev Eliyahu derives this from a close look at the words in the pasuk. First, the pasuk states that all that Hashem asks is “כי אם ליראה–ki im l’yir’ah (only to fear).” But then the pasuk continues to list four other items. HaRav Lopian points out that there is no letter “vav” before the second item in the list, which begins with “ללכת–laleches (to go).” Therefore, the pasuk is telling us that it is really only one request. The request is Yir’as Hashem. But that one request leads us to the other four. If one truly has Yir’as Hashem, constant awareness of Hashem, then he will also have the rest. He will have refined midos, will love Hashem, will serve Hashem with all his heart and soul, and will perform His mitzvos.
Awareness of Hashem is then not only the highest wisdom we can attain, but also the precursor to all of our avodas Hashem.
Clearly, expending great effort and diligence to working on our awareness of Hashem on a daily basis should be a great priority for each one of us. Each person should speak to his rebbe or rav to fill in the “how”; but since all of our service to Hashem and, therefore, our eternal world, depends upon our level of awareness of Hashem, it is something that we should be putting in a great deal of attention and effort. May we be zocheh to ever increasing awareness and love of Hashem.