In this week’s portion we find an extremely interesting quote: “Now O Israel, what does G-d ask of you? Only to have yirah, fear of G-d, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve G-d with all your heart and all your soul.” (Deut. Ch.10 V.12).
This seems to be quite a lofty undertaking being mentioned to the Jewish people. Why is it prefaced by the word “only”?
There are three imperatives mentioned here: fear of G-d, imitation of G-d, and love of G-d.
These three are listed in ascending order of what each Jew is meant to reach in his lifetime. Fear leads to imitation, which leads to love.
The Ohr Hachayim notes that the use of the word “only” is telling us the minimal expectation that G-d has for us is to fear Him.
Why would that be? What does G-d gain from having us fear Him?
Let us first understand what it means to fear G-d.
There are two meanings to the word in the verse “yirah”. One translation is fear of G-d due to an awareness that G-d is all-seeing and all-knowing. When one has the realization that G-d created the world for a purpose (a conclusion reached by any rational person) he understands that he is hurting the world by his negative actions. This brings him to a fear of G-d as G-d is the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, and he is afraid of punishment (another week, we will delve into the topic of how punishment works, and how it is only corrective / rehabilitative, never vindictive). This is the lowest level of fear. There is another level of yirah, much higher than this one. This is the level of awe. This is where a person is in awe of G-d, awed by His greatness.
How does a person reach this level of yirah — awe?
The Slonimer Rebbe, gives a beautiful explanation. The word yirah is composed of four letters: yud, reish, alef and hay. These same letters also spell the word r’iya--to see. The Rebbe explains that the way a person reaches the level of fear of G-d, or ideally awe of G-d, is to see: to look around, to be perceptive, to see the gifts of nature and the pattern of history, to make our minds inquisitive to the mysteries of the world. Through this “seeing”, a person will have an awe of G-d. And through this perception, this awe, he will want to imitate the ways of our Creator. And through this imitation, he will eventually achieve the highest level — love.
This is the path Avraham (Abraham) followed. This is the potential path for each and every Jew to follow. It might seem like a difficult path, but the reward at the end, which is knowledge and connection with G-d, is so awesome, the requirements to reach it are rightfully preceded by the word “only”.