King Solomon once said, "The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is Man's whole duty. For G-d will judge every deed even everything hidden whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). There you have it; it all boils down to being mindful that Hashem is in charge, and one day each and every one of us will have to give an accounting for how we chose to live our lives. It is a concept that is simple to appreciate, but tougher to live by.
Torah living is replete with beautiful ideas, character-building discipline, and a plethora of sensitivities. Nonetheless, if one's service to Hashem is not imbued with a sense of fear of the awesome King of kings, the holy One blessed be He, there lurks a danger of irreverence and over self-reliance. Certainly, concomitant with our fear of G-d is our love of G-d. Still, one cannot overlook the role that yirat shamayim (fear of heaven) plays in protecting us from the dangers of excess.
The Mishnah states in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers 3:11): "Anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom endures." There are two ways in which we could improperly rely on our wisdom. Sometimes we have a tendency to attempt to play G-d. We look into our crystal balls and try our hardest to figure out how things should be, and get frustrated when they are not that way. The problem here is that our faith takes a beating when things are not going how we perceive they should be.
Other times, we think we have all the answers and that because of our "unique" appreciation for a given situation, we know how to best react. The danger here is that we may fall prey to rationalizing, and allow our observance level to slacken by taking liberties. We may have the mindset, "Oh, this is forbidden to most people because they cannot handle it, but I can. Therefore, my contemplated behavior is permissible for me." The truth, however, is that if our foremost reaction to a trying situation would be, "What does G-d want me to do?" then we would usually avoid these aforementioned pitfalls of attempted omniscience and rationalization.
A biblical figure who embodied the trait of yirat shamayim is Joseph. He was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and wrongfully imprisoned. His faith in G-d did not waiver. To him, even if he initially could not understand it, all was part of G-d's plan. Indeed, Joseph consoles his remorse-filled brethren, "It was not you who sent me here, but G-d" (Genesis 45:8). Man cannot and should not attempt to fathom G-d's doings, nor should he lose faith when the chips are seemingly down. Man's wisdom is imperfect. Additionally, Joseph's reaction to the adulterous enticements of his master's wife demonstrates the importance of putting one's fear of G-d over one's wisdom. The Sforno, a 16th century Italian Torah commentator, describes that Joseph fled from her presence and he did not rely on his intellectual knowledge that it would be wrong to accede to her beckoning. His fear of sin led him to avoid a potentially compromising situation to begin with.
At the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah notes that upon leaving Egypt, Hashem directed the Jews along a more distant route in order to avoid the Philistine region, where a violent encounter might dissuade their faith. The Torah then relates that Moses personally acted as the custodian for taking Joseph's bones from Egypt. What does the journey's path have to do with Joseph's bones? Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, known as the Izbizcher Rebbe, comments that Moses was worried that G-d did not lead them on the direct route because the Jews were spiritually inadequate. Perhaps, Moses might have thought, they had not gotten Egypt out of their system, and therefore this renavigation could be read as a bad sign. This is why the Torah emphasizes, at this point in the narrative, that Moses collected Joseph's bones. Moses was harboring doubts, therefore his faith needed a booster shot. In carrying the remains of Joseph, someone who so strongly feared G- d, Moses had the remedy he needed. He need not question the spiritual condition of the Jewish people. It was not for him to fret over why the people had to take the longer route.
Sometimes, we do not understand events and happenings, but be assured that G-d is running things for His own reasons. When times are tough, hang in there. It is not for us to worry about. As King Solomon stated, just fear G-d and follow His laws, for that is Man's purpose.
Daniel Lasar writes from New Jersey.
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