Shemot: The Fear of G-d

The most ancient of Hebrew traditions.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen

"The King of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives - of whom the name of the first was Shifrah and the name of the second was Puah - and he said, 'When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birth stool; if it is a son, you are to kill him, and if it is a daughter, she shall live.' But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live." (Shemot 1:15-17)

It is taught that Shifrah and Puah are alternate names for Yocheved and Miriam, mother and sister to Moshe and
To fear G-d is to be full of courage and to fear nothing at all.
Aharon. We learn further that the midwives feared G-d and therefore HaShem built them "Houses in Israel" (the priesthood came out of Yocheved and the Davidic dynasty descended from Miriam). But in order to properly grasp this teaching, it is first necessary to appreciate what it means to "fear" G-d.

To fear G-d is to be full of courage and to fear nothing at all. When one truly fears G-d, one cannot possibly fear Pharaoh, poverty, prison or even death, because G-d is the Creator and Source of all. For one to fear G-d is to have the Truth of HaShem inside of him to the extent that he fears nothing inferior to the One Who created him. And only with this courageous awe of HaShem are Yocheved and Miriam able to give birth to the greatest leadership Israel has ever known.

Because the slave naturally fears his master, and the Israelis in Egypt were brought up to fear their oppressors, the behavior displayed by Yocheved and Miriam was a revolution against the sociological order of their day. G-d had not promised the women any reward for endangering themselves; they had no guarantee that they would survive Pharaoh's wrath. What Yocheved and Miriam did, however, was to carry on the most ancient of Hebrew traditions.

When thrown into Nimrod's furnace for his commitment to HaShem, our patriarch Avraham did not expect to be saved. Rather, he was willing to give up his life for the truth in his soul, regardless of whether or not he would live.

During the terrible Holocaust in Europe, there lived Jews willing to collaborate with the Nazis in order to make life easier for themselves and their families. These were pragmatic Jews who saw and understood that the Nazis were strong and their own people weak. The rational answer to their situation was to survive by assisting the Nazis in carrying out their plans. There are prohibitions in the Torah, however, for which one must be willing to give his life rather than transgress.

One clear example is that a person must die rather than participate in the murder of his own people (which was a common occurrence for Jews helping the Nazis). Fear of HaShem in such a situation is the soul not being prepared to contaminate itself through handing over one's brother to a murderer. Therefore, a person with true fear of G-d could never have allowed himself to deliver other Jews. Life itself would no longer feel worth living after having committed such an atrocity.

A person who genuinely fears G-d has no personal fear for his own life and he is automatically infused with a tremendous spirit of valor. While this is certainly not an easy level to attain, one can reach this great height through asking honest questions and being prepared for difficult answers. The true courage of fearing HaShem involves emotional maturity, intellectual honesty and the willingness to shoulder a national responsibility. Yocheved and Miriam risked their lives for what was right, knowing that they could have been slain and forgotten. Like Avraham, they feared G-d because that was the truth of their souls and not because they had any guarantees of survival.

Fear of G-d is not an insurance policy for the body, but for the soul. It is a loyalty to Divine truth without any expectations for reward. Only at this caliber, can a person become courageous to the point of being unbreakable in the face of overwhelming adversity. Anything a person is threatened with simply becomes meaningless in comparison to his lofty awe of HaShem.

In addition to being the wellspring of courage, fearing HaShem is the base for attaining true love - the ability to give without expectations. Rabbi Akiva teaches that the commandment, "you shall love your fellow as yourself" is a mitzvah that encompasses the Torah in its entirety. It is the base that the Torah rests on in order to be fully revealed in our world.

Genuine love entails being ready to take risks without fear that one's feelings might not be reciprocal. Whether it is a personal, national or universal love, one who truly cares does not fret about being exploited, because real
They had no guarantee that they would survive Pharaoh's wrath.
compassion exists only to give. The idea of true love is an incredibly high concept and the most essential base for correctly understanding the Torah. In order to achieve this level of compassion, one must first be an exceptionally courageous individual.

Moshe was destined to liberate Israel from Egypt and to teach us the Torah to observe in our own land. He grew up in the house of Pharaoh, a place representing ideals which stand in stark contrast to Moshe's unique mission. Pharaoh desires to keep Israel in exile, physically and culturally enslaved. In order to develop the courage necessary to lead Israel from slavery to freedom, Moshe grew up surrounded by the power that stood against the fundamental essence of his task. It was precisely this environment that forced Moshe to ask true questions, to grow to emotional maturity and to realize his mission as Israel's savior. He was therefore given a series of challenges that forced him to develop the valor required to overcome all obstacles and enter the world of love.

"It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, of his brethren. He turned this way and that and saw that there was no man, so he struck down the Egyptian and buried him in the sand." (Shemot 2:11-12)

Prince Moshe saw an Egyptian beating an Israeli slave. He made a choice to intervene and it was here that he reached emotional maturity, by being prepared to sacrifice his princedom in order to save his brother from harm. At this point, Moshe left the world of Egyptian royalty and entered into the realm of Hebrew responsibility.

"He went out the next day and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting. He said to the wicked one, 'Why do you strike your fellow?' He replied, 'Who appointed you as a dignitary, a ruler and a judge over us? Do you propose to murder me as you murdered the Egyptian?' Moshe was frightened and he thought, 'Indeed the matter is known!'" (Shemot 2:13-14)

The Torah states earlier that Moshe "saw that there was no man", yet here we see an Israeli with knowledge of his deed. If the matter was known, then obviously there had been witnesses around when Moshe struck the Egyptian. When the verse says that he "saw that there was no man," it is teaching that he saw no one intervening. No Hebrew slave would stand up for his brother. Pirkei Avot teaches: "Where there is no man, be a man"; no one was intervening, so Moshe took the risk of slaughtering the Egyptian himself, knowing that he could lose his royal status and possibly his life. He took this risk because his soul could not bear the suffering of his brother. Regarding his deed of striking the Egyptian, the Maharal of Prague teaches, in Gvurot HaShem, that "Moshe's soul was clothed in greatness" - his soul now being one with his people.

It is important to note that Moshe had not yet received any prophecy. He had not been commanded to slay the Egyptian. In fact, the predetermined years of Hebrew bondage were not even close to being finished. Without receiving any sign or Divine command, Moshe's soul could not bear the sight of Hebrew suffering. This is the inner secret of Israel's Redemption. The Geulah comes when a person cannot bear the suffering of another. His soul then begins to believe in Redemption and he instinctively works toward achieving this goal. Moshe was no longer a prince of Egypt, but instead became the savior of Am Yisrael.

Not able to stomach the idea of strife within Israel, Moshe attempted to make peace. One Jew responded to him
The Geulah comes when a person cannot bear the suffering of another.
by asking, "Do you propose to murder me, as you murdered the Egyptian?" Rashi explains that Moshe finally realized why Israel were slaves. The Jew threatened Moshe by revealing that he knew of Moshe's deed, implying that he could easily turn him over to the authorities. Moshe then understood the slavery of Israel.

When one cares for another to the extent that nothing can frighten him, this caring becomes the power of Israel's Redemption. That Hebrew slave was willing to reveal Moshe's heroic act of love to the Egyptians. But by exposing Moshe, he would not have merely been turning in one man, but actually exposing the entire secret of Israel's Redemption. Moshe understood that one who is a slave cannot keep a secret. And one who cannot keep a secret can never be redeemed. If Israel could keep the secret of Ahavat Yisrael - of love and responsibility for one another - they would be willing to give their lives and could no longer be enslaved.

Whether in Egypt, Europe, America or even Israel, one who understands the secret of Redemption can never cooperate with those seeking Israel's destruction. The courage to resist tyranny and oppression is the first step in attaining and shining a love that will cure all humanity and bring Creation to perfection.