> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Fear of Heaven

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

The following is one of the most basic verses in our Torah regarding man's obligation in life.

Tosafot questions a well-known saying of the Sages.

Deuteronomy 10:12

"And now Israel, what does Hashem, your God, demand of you but to fear Hashem your God, to go in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve Hashem your God with all your heart and all your soul."



But to fear - RASHI: Our Rabbis derived from this [verse] that all is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.



How do the Rabbis derive this lesson from our verse?

Your Answer:



An Answer: The verse says that God requests Israel "only to fear" Him. If God must make this request of the people, it is clear that He has no "control" over the matter. Secondly, the fact that it says "only" to fear Him implies that this is the only thing that God demands of us – because it is the only thing He has to demand, since everything else is up to Him. This would seem to be the basis of this drash.



The Daas Zekainim finds another saying of the Sages, which seems to contradict our saying. They cite the Talmud (Kesubos 30a) which says:

"All is in the hands of Heaven except for tzinim and pachim."

The meaning of the Hebrew words "tzinim and pachim" is based on the verse in Proverbs 22:5:

"Thorns (tzinim) and snares (pachim) are in the path of the perverse; he who guards his soul will distance himself from them."

(This is Rashi's interpretation in Proverbs.)

The message of this proverb is that dangers exist in the world, particularly for those who are "perverse," that is, for those who don't try to avoid them - but the cautious person takes heed not to be harmed by them.

The Sages' statement can now be understood. These dangers are the individual's responsibility, he must guard himself against them; he should not be nonchalant and think they are a Divine decree and that there is nothing he can do. If he is not careful, there is no assurance that God will intervene to save him.

Now let us return to Tosafot's question: The contradiction between these two sayings of the Sages. If only the fear of Heaven is not in God's hand, then what of "thorns and snares"? And vice versa.

Can you suggest an answer?

Your Answer:



They suggest that the two sayings represent two different areas of a person's life.

Regarding all matters of our material, worldly, existence - such as health, wealth, physical make-up etc. - only "thorns and snares" i.e. harmful accidents that can be avoided, are, so to speak, not in God's hands. They are within the realm of human responsibility. (The reckless or tired driver, take note.)

And of all matters related to the spirit, such as: high or low intelligence, an angry or a pleasant personality etc., only the fear of Heaven is "not in God's hands." This means that although we don't all begin our existence with the same physical, mental or psychological circumstances, nevertheless, we all can exert ourselves equally in the realm of the fear of God.

Thus, according to Tosafot, there is no contradiction. The two sayings relate to two different spheres of our life, the physical and the spiritual. In each of these realms there remains one arena of behavior for which man, and man alone, is responsible for his fate; areas where Heaven allows man full freedom.

Tosafot adds that this idea is clearly expressed in the Tanach. The prophet Jeremiah said (9:22):

"Let not a wise man glorify himself with his wisdom, and let not the strong man glorify himself with his strength, let not a rich man glorify himself with his wealth. For only with this may one glorify himself - contemplating and knowing Me, for I am Hashem Who does kindness, justice and righteousness in the land for this is My desire, says Hashem."

This means that since a man should only rightfully take credit (and "glory in") accomplishments which he has achieved through his own efforts, therefore there is no reason to glory in the accumulation of wealth, wisdom and strength since these all are gifts from God. But only "knowing God," which is the same as fearing God, is an achievement that man can justifiably be proud of, since whatever he achieves in this area, he has achieved through his own efforts.



This question and answer are typical of the comparative/analytical approach of the Ba'alei Tosafot in their Talmudic commentary. Frequently they uncover other citations in the Talmud which appear to contradict the text to which they are relating. Their approach is to try to reconcile the divergent texts, just as they did in our case.

There is certainly an easier way to reconcile the contradiction between these two statements as to what is only in the hands of Heaven. It is reasonable to assume that two different Sages made these different statements. They might differ in their opinion as to what is and what is not in the hands of Heaven. We constantly find differences between Sages in the Talmud. That is the whole excitement of the Talmudic discourse. Why doesn't Tosafot simply say that these are two different and differing opinions? But this is not the approach taken by Tosafot. Characteristically, their style of commentary, in the Talmud especially, is to prefer to reconcile matters in a way that avoids an argument and at the same time gives us an insight into the differing concepts.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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